On Wednesday, HHS announced that the federal government will offer another round of four free COVID-19 tests to all U.S. households as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise across the country.
Weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations have been rising steadily nationwide since July. For the week ending Sept. 9, there were more than 20,500 new hospital admissions, an almost 8% increase from the week before. Although the rate of increase has slowed in recent weeks, the trends are still noteworthy as the country heads into the fall and winter.
On Wednesday, HHS announced that the federal government will soon offer a fifth round of free COVID-19 tests to all U.S. households. Starting Sept. 25, people will be able to order another four free COVID-19 tests, with shipping expected to begin on Oct. 2.
The COVID-19 tests are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile and are intended to be used through the end of the year. Although many of stockpiled tests have expired, FDA has extended some expiration dates, and the new tests will include instructions on how people can verify extended expiration dates.
Gregg Gonsalves, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said the return of free COVID-19 tests is a "welcome development."
"The first thing in public health is to know your status," Gonsalves said. "We only have tools if we have the resources to access them, and many people don't have the ability to go to buy a pack of tests when they cost $25 or $20 to get at the pharmacy."
Dawn O'Connell, HHS' assistant secretary for preparedness and response, has encouraged Americans to order tests and use them, especially if they plan to spend time around people who may be at high risk of severe illness.
"We've seen each fall and winter season an increase in cases as people move indoors and are seeing their families again and interacting in smaller groups and closer quarters," O'Connell said. "We wanted to make sure as we head into that season … that we provide an avenue for people to be able to receive these tests for free."
HHS also announced $600 million in new investments into domestic test manufactures to help them "warm-base" the country's capacity for rapid test production for both COVID-19 and other future viruses.
The funding will go to 12 COVID-19 test manufacturers to strengthen their manufacturing capacity, as well as purchase around 200 million over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for the federal government. The manufacturers are located in California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.
"The Biden-Harris Administration, in partnership with domestic manufacturers, has made great strides in addressing vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain by reducing our reliance on overseas manufacturing," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "These 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."
According to O'Connell, HHS's assistant secretary for preparedness and response, the United States needs to have ongoing domestic test production capacity.
"What it does is keep the lines running, so we no longer have that boom and bust [cycle]," she said. "This capability is important now for Covid and we're using it and exercising it now as we’re heading into the fall and winter season. But it's going to be critically important for other outbreaks that we’re responding to in the future." (Branswell/Cohrs, STAT News, 9/20; Gumbrecht, CNN, 9/20; Nirappil, Washington Post, 9/20; Smith-Schoenwalder, U.S. News & World Report, 9/19)
The development of COVID-19 tests and reliance on home-based care have made at-home testing a major market — but is it here to stay? We examine two factors driving its growth and two potential roadblocks to its continued success.
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