White House Pausing Free at-Home Covid Test Orders to Conserve Nation’s Supply
KTUL-The National Desk - August 30, 2022 6:39 am
President Joe Biden (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The White House is suspending orders for free at-home COVID tests Friday to conserve the supply through the fall when the U.S. could be hit with another wave of infections.
A senior Biden administration official said the pause is a necessary step to conserve what is left of the nation’s supply because Congress has not provided funding to replenish the stockpile.
“Unfortunately, because of the limited funding we have to work with, we have had to make impossible choices about which tools and programs to invest in — and which ones we must downsize, pause, or end altogether. The administration will continue to work within its limited existing resources to secure as many additional tests as we can,” the official said.
Americans had been able to order three rounds of tests for free and receive them through the U.S. Postal Service. Over 600 million tests have already been distributed through covidtests.gov, but orders will be suspended as children across the country head back to school and the weather starts to cool, forcing people inside and risking the spread of the virus.
The official did not say how many tests were left or when they would be available to order again after the pause begins on Sept. 2.
If Congress provides funding, we will expeditiously resume distribution of free tests through covidtests.gov. Until then, we believe reserving the remaining tests for distribution later this year is the best course,” the administration official said.
Free at-home testing is still available for 92% of Americans through private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. There are also still 15,000 federally supported free testing sites across the U.S.
The White House has requested as much as $22.5 billion in new funding to pay for tests, research, vaccines and therapeutics. Talks with Senate Republicans on a $10 billion bill collapsed earlier this year due to GOP objections.
Senate Democrats introduced a supplemental appropriations bill last month that would have given $21 billion to address the next phase of the pandemic. It has remained stalled in the Senate as Republicans have maintained there is no need for more virus funding, and any new package should be paid for with unused funds in previous bills.
“We lack the necessary resources to support testing, sustain supplies of therapeutics, and procure the next generation of vaccines that will be vital to finally ending this pandemic. Our efforts to stop this disease abroad to protect us here at home are quickly running out of funding, and we are running out of time to act,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in July.
The Biden administration and public health experts have warned that a lack of new funding will set the U.S. behind for the next round of vaccines, treatments and therapeutics.
We’re not in a good place,” said Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health policy at George Washington University. “Everyone, including members of Congress, are eager to get back to business as usual. The only way to really be safely back at business as usual is if we continue to have the resources to both monitor who is sick, but also to assure people have access to vaccines, the next round of vaccines, and that we close the gap and people who are not vaccinated.”
Over $3 billion in funds were shifted earlier this year for the Biden administration to secure 105 million doses of an updated Pfizer vaccine for the fall. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said at the time that it wouldn’t be enough to cover boosters for every adult and came at the expense of other pandemic responses like testing and vaccine manufacturing.
The burden of a lack of federal funding for public health is going to be felt most by people who are uninsured, who are most likely to work jobs considered “essential” that pose a risk to their health through infection.
It will also stress local and state health departments that are not typically flush with cash and resources. A report from a group of public health experts and leaders earlier this year found public health funding is insufficient and unreliable, which increases the risk of future health crises.
“This is a chronic problem in public health. We invest a lot of money at the beginning of a crisis, and then our attention span wanes and we don’t come up with the resources that are needed to really continue to fight a problem,” Levi said.