Winter is coming
The White House announced Thursday that it plans to relaunch a program that provided free COVID tests to American households in need through the U.S. Postal Service. The free test program is a part of the Biden administration's COVID-19 "winter preparedness plan" to face rising COVID cases, The New York Times reports.
Administration officials paused the USPS COVID test program in early September due to concerns that the demand for free test kits threatened to deplete supplies before winter. They warned that the White House could not afford to buy more tests, so they paused the program to preserve the "limited remaining supply" for a potential surge of COVID-19 during the winter holiday season, per Politico. Over 600 million home tests were sent out to households nationwide before federal officials put the program on hold. To restart the program without additional congressional funding, officials relied on what the White House called "limited existing funding." Households can request four tests on the covidtests.gov website, with deliveries beginning next week.
Unpausing the free test program is a part of the White House's agenda to head off a potential surge in COVID cases that could put pressure on medical centers that are already strained. Cases of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are already overwhelming medical professionals, and COVID cases are rising. Reported cases have seen a roughly 55 percent increase over the past two weeks, and COVID-related deaths have risen 65 percent in the same period, per the Times. Hospitalizations have also increased by over 20 percent. The rise in cases has been largely driven by two Omicron subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which now make up around two-thirds of the cases reported in the U.S.