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 500 million tests.
Each household will be able to request four tests through a new government-run website, and the tests are to be delivered in seven to 12 days, a senior administration official said. The tests will be shipped through the US Postal Service, which has recruited and retained vacation staff to meet the additional demand, the official said.
The administration has 420 million tests under contract, with “tens of millions” currently in government possession, the official said. Although not all tests have been purchased, the manager said he was confident he would be able to fill all orders within the seven-to-12-day window.
“The program aims to ensure that people have rapid tests at home in the coming weeks,” the official said. “And as we said, this is just one more program of a number of programs that we have put in place.”
Test manufacturers have ramped up the pace of production amid increased demand driven by the omicron variant and several new tests have been approved over the past month, adding to the country’s capacity. But it could take several more months for the United States to be able to reach its total of 500 million tests available to ship, according to manufacturers’ projections.
The United States went from 24 million rapid home tests in August to 375 million in January, the White House said. The free tests will be added to the existing supply of tests, officials said.
The Biden administration estimates it will cost a total of $4 billion to buy and distribute the tests, the official said.
Individuals should use a home test if they start showing symptoms at least five days after being in close contact with an infected person, or if they congregate indoors with a group of people at risk of illness serious or who are unvaccinated, a second administration official said.
Along with free at-home testing, 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 starting Jan. 15. The White House also said this week it was sending an additional 10 million rapid tests to schools.