WASHINGTON — U.S. residents will be able to order a free at-home Covid-19 test from the federal government starting Jan. 19 as part of an effort by the Biden administration to send out 500 million of the tests.
Each household will be able to request four tests via a new government-run website, and tests are to be delivered in seven to 12 days, a senior administration official said. The tests will be shipped through the U.S. Postal Service, which has been staffing up and keeping on holiday staff to meet the added demand, the official said.
The administration has 420 million tests under contract, with “tens of millions” currently in the possession of the government, the official said. While not all tests have been procured, the official said they are confident they will be able to fill all orders in the seven- to 12-day window.
“The program is intended to really ensure that people have at-home rapid tests available in the weeks ahead,” the official said. “And as we have said, this is just one more program on top of a number of programs that we have been putting in place.”
Manufacturers of tests have been ramping up the pace of production amid a surge in demand driven by the omicron variant and several new tests have been approved over the last month, adding to the country’s capacity. But it could take several more months for the United States to be able to meet its total of having all 500 million tests available to ship, according to projections from the manufacturers.
The U.S. has gone from having 24 million at-home rapid tests in August to 375 million in January, the White House said. The free tests will be on top of the existing supply of tests, officials have said.
The Biden administration estimates it will cost a total of $4 billion to purchase and distribute the tests, the official said.
Individuals should use an at-home test if they begin to have symptoms at least five days after coming in close contact with an infected person, or if they are gathering indoors with a group of people at risk of severe disease or who are unvaccinated, a second administration official said.
Along with the free at-home tests, the administration is requiring health insurers to cover the cost of eight tests per person for those who purchase an at-home test from a retailer as of Jan. 15. The White House also said this week it was sending 10 million additional rapid tests to schools.