The federal government will again launch a program to distribute free COVID-19 home test kits to Americans, said the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday.
“We will once again begin our program to provide Americans with an opportunity to request tests,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said during an event at a Washington CVS pharmacy location, where he also took COVID-19 and influenza vaccines.
“We want them to be able to use those tests during this viral season … fall, winter, respiratory viral season,” Mr. Becerra said. He added in a statement that such “critical investments will strengthen our nation’s production levels of domestic at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and help mitigate the spread of the virus.”
The Department of Health and Human Services stated orders can be placed at COVIDTests.gov starting Sept. 25, and that no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service.
Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, told The Associated Press that the website will remain functional to receive orders through the holidays and that “we reserve the right to keep it open even longer if we’re starting to see an increase in cases.”
“If there is a demand for these tests, we want to make sure that they’re made available to the American people for free in this way,” Ms. O’Connell said. “But, at this point, our focus is getting through the holidays and making sure folks can take a test if they’re going to see Grandma for Thanksgiving.”
The tests are designed to detect COVID-19 variants currently circulating, and are intended for use by the end of the year. But they will include instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates, the department said.
Twelve manufacturers that employ hundreds of people in seven states have been awarded funding and will produce 200 million over-the-counter tests to replenish federal stockpiles for government use, in addition to producing enough tests to meet demand for tests ordered online, the department said. Federal officials said that will help guard against supply chain issues that sparked some shortages of at-home COVID-19 tests made overseas during past surges in coronavirus cases.
The initiative follows four previous rounds where federal officials and the U.S. Postal Service said they provided more than 755 million tests for free to homes nationwide. It is also meant also provide resources regarding the program to send free COVID-19 tests to long-term care facilities, schools, low-income senior housing, uninsured individuals, the department said.
Data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that between Sept. 3 and Sept. 9, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have increased by about 7.7 percent to about 20,538 cases across the United States. However, that figure is a far cry from the peak pandemic years, according to prior CDC data.
Last month, a doctor with Tufts Medicine told ABC News that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases shouldn’t be of much concern.
“An upswing is not a surge; it’s not even a wave,” Dr. Shira Doron, chief infection control officer for Tufts Medicine, told the broadcaster. “What we’re seeing is a very gradual and small upward trajectory of cases and hospitalizations, without deaths really going along, which is great news.”
Will Mandates Return?
Wednesday’s announcement from HHS did not make any reference to mandates. However, there have been fears that masking or possibly COVID-19 vaccine mandates may return across the United States as some hospitals, schools, and private businesses have made masking mandatory in certain settings.
On Sept. 15, the Baystate Health system in Massachusetts announced that it would require masks for anyone entering patient rooms or patient care areas. That includes doctors, nurses, visitors, and patients, it said.
“In order to protect the safety and health of our patients, visitors, and employees, we must re-institute the requirement that face masks be worn by employees and visitors in all direct patient care areas in Baystate Health hospitals and the Cancer Center, effective immediately,” the announcement said. “Our team will be continually monitoring the state of COVID-19 in our communities so that our policies can adjust based on the risk assessment.”
That same day, the University of Chicago Medical Center in Illinois told CBS Chicago and other local media that mask mandates will be in effect for workers who are in direct contact with patients. Employees who don’t have symptoms don’t have to wear masks in certain areas such as workrooms, public areas, and break rooms, and during meetings, officials said.
Several other hospitals in New York, Massachusetts, and California have re-implemented mask mandates since August. A school in Maryland also made them mandatory for a kindergarten class, while an Atlanta college did the same before rescinding the rule two weeks later.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times