COVID-19 tests are free again amid case uptick

The U.S. resumed its program that ships four free COVID-19 tests to every household Dec. 15 as the mostly vaccinated but scarcely boosted nation braces for a winter surge in cases. 

The resurgence of the offer is part of the federal government's larger COVID-19 preparedness plan for the winter, which includes efforts to expand vaccination sites, according to a press briefing. The White House is also expanding the pool of providers who can administer COVID-19 vaccines to include staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and reminded states it will make federal medical teams available to support strained hospitals upon request. 

Release of the COVID-19 preparedness plan comes as hospitals are already facing the worst flu outbreak in a decade and emerging from an outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus. 

"This is not one disease in isolation," White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, told CNN. "The stress on hospitals and stress on healthcare workers is because of all the respiratory pathogens. So we are very aware that this increase that we're seeing in COVID-19 is in that context of one of the worst flu seasons in a decade and RSV that was quite bad."

To help combat the "tripledemic," the government reallocated funds to prioritize the free at-home test program about three months after the program that shipped millions of COVID-19 test kits halted because federally approved funds were drying up. 

Although the kits again are available, tests may be one of the last oases amid the growing desert of COVID-19 products the U.S. will stop paying for. Pfizer's popular antiviral drug Paxlovid has a few months before the government stops covering the $530-a-pop treatment, Kaiser Health News reported Dec. 7, and vaccines likely will shift from the federal government's tab in 2023 as well.

The free tests can be ordered here and will start shipping Dec. 19. 


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