WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is again making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households as it unveils its contingency plans for potential coronavirus surges this winter.
After a three-month hiatus, the administration is making four rapid virus tests available through covidtests.gov starting Thursday, the White House said in an email to media outlets. The rollout will coincide with a federal push to distribute free at-home tests to more than 6,500 federally-supported rental properties housing seniors.
The federal government will also increase access to free COVID-19 tests at community locations such as schools, long-term care facilities, rural health clinics and community health centers.
COVID-19 cases have shown a marked increase after the Thanksgiving holiday, and further increases are projected from indoor gathering and travel around Christmas and New Year's.
The administration is putting personnel and equipment on standby should they be needed to help overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes, as was necessary in earlier waves of the virus. So far, there have been no requests for assistance, but surge teams, ventilators and personal protective equipment are ready, a senior member of Biden's administration told the Associated Press.
According to the White House, this readiness of personnel is being coupled with a redeployment of supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile.
The U.S. government reports that it has hundreds of millions of N-95 masks, billions of gloves, tens of millions of gowns, and over 100,000 ventilators stored in the stockpile, ready to ship when requested by state governments.
The Biden administration says it has moved these supplies to strategic locations across the country so that they can be sent as efficiently as possible.
The Biden administration is also urging states and local governments to do more to encourage people to get the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which scientists say are more effective at protecting against serious illness and death from the currently circulating variants. The administration is reiterating best practices to nursing homes and long-term care facilities for virus prevention and treatment and is urging administrators as well as governments to encourage vulnerable populations to get the new shots.
The planning comes as the administration has struggled to persuade most Americans to get the updated boosters as cases and deaths have declined from pandemic highs and most people have embraced a return to most of their pre-pandemic activities.
The Biden administration official who spoke to the AP said funding for the new tests has been reallocated from other virus programs while the White House struggles to get congressional buy-in for additional COVID-19 emergency funding. The official declined to detail how much is being spent on the new tests or from which programs they were diverted.