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White House to resume program sending free COVID tests by mail

The Biden administration is restarting its program to send free COVID-19 testing kits through the U.S. Mail to any households that request them.

The White House on Thursday said households can begin ordering a total of four at-home tests from the COVIDTests.gov website to be mailed directly to them for free, regardless of how many tests they have ordered previously. 

The tests will start to ship out the week of Dec. 19th, according to an administration official.

The White House first began sending out the kits last January during the peak of the omicron wave, but the program was halted at the beginning of September due to a lack of funding from Congress. Administration officials at the time indicated they were concerned the stockpile of tests would run out before the winter.

By the time the program ended, the federal government distributed an estimated 600 million tests.

Now, the program is restarting as part of the White House’s broader winter preparedness plan. According to a senior administration official, leftover American Rescue Plan money is being repurposed to purchase and distribute additional tests.

The administration has requested about $10 billion in COVID response money from Congress as part of the year-end government funding bill, but the prospects of it being included amid major GOP opposition are slim.

Public health officials have repeatedly warned that the U.S. will likely face another wave of COVID-19 infections as the weather gets colder and people travel and gather for the holidays. White House officials have said they are prepared for any potential surge in infections, noting that widespread vaccinations have made the virus far less disruptive than it was two years ago.

But it doesn’t seem to be convincing a checked-out public to get vaccinated. New COVID-19 booster shot uptake remains extremely low heading into the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, with fewer than 14 percent of the eligible population receiving a shot. 

In the meantime, infections, hospitalizations and deaths are all rising, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Aside from mail-order tests, the winter plan will include distributing tests and masks at more locations, the White House said. 

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities will also see additional resources and flexibilities to help boost lagging vaccination rates, including allowing nursing home staff to administer shots. 

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