By Ahmed Aboulenein
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Monday will start taking orders for another round of free COVID-19 tests for delivery across the country, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson said.
Households that had ordered four free tests through COVIDTests.gov when they were offered again in September are eligible to order four more, while those that did not can submit two orders for a total of eight free tests.
The government is making tests available ahead of the U.S. holiday season, which starts with Thanksgiving on Nov. 23 and ends with New Year’s celebrations, as travel on public transportation and indoor gatherings tend to spread infections.
Weekly COVID-19 hospital admissions climbed to over 16,000 on Nov. 11, according to the latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, up from almost 15,000 the previous week, but lower than the nearly 24,000 at the same time last year.
President Joe Biden‘s administration had initially suspended the popular free test program, which started taking orders in January 2022, in August of that year, citing a lack of congressional funding. It resumed offering the tests in December 2022 as cases were surging, and opened another round of orders on Sept. 25 this year.
The tests are paid for using COVID-19 supplemental funding from the American Rescue Plan, the HHS spokesperson said.
The Biden administration has distributed over 1.6 billion free tests to date, the spokesperson said, including those delivered to people’s homes through the website, as well as millions weekly to long-term care facilities, schools, community health centers, and food banks.
HHS and the Department of Education plan to expand a program that brings tests to schools nationwide over the coming weeks.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Bill Berkrot)