The Biden administration is again making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households as it unveils its contingency plans for potential coronavirus surges this winter.
What You Need To Know
- The Biden administration is again making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households as it unveils its contingency plans for potential coronavirus surges this winter
- The most important thing Americans can do to protect themselves is to get the updated vaccine, said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID coordinator
- COVID-19 cases have shown a marked increase after the Thanksgiving holiday further increases are projected from indoor gathering and travel around Christmas and New Year's
- One health expert told Spectrum News she recommends that people test themselves before gatherings with family or friends -- once the day before and once the day of
After a three-month hiatus, the administration is making four rapid virus tests available through covidtests.gov starting Thursday. COVID-19 cases have shown a marked increase after the Thanksgiving holiday, and further increases are projected from indoor gathering and travel around Christmas and New Year's.
"We don't want this winter to look like last winter or the winter before," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, at a briefing with reporters.
"We have seen COVID cases go up. We've seen hospitalizations go up. Deaths are just starting to rise," he later added. "We obviously want to make sure that does not go any further."
The administration is putting personnel and equipment on standby should they be needed to help overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes, as was necessary in earlier waves of the virus. So far, there have been no requests for assistance, but surge teams, ventilators and personal protective equipment are ready, a senior administration official said.
The Biden administration is also urging states and local governments to do more to encourage people to get the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which scientists say are more effective at protecting against serious illness and death from the currently circulating variants. The administration is reiterating best practices to nursing homes and long-term care facilities for virus prevention and treatment and is urging administrators as well as governments to encourage vulnerable populations to get the new shots.
Dr. Jha on Thursday said the U.S. is in a much better place with the tools Americans have to keep themselves safe, including the free tests, treatments and masks.
But the most important thing, he said: "They've got to get their updated vaccines."
The planning comes as the administration has struggled to persuade most Americans to get the updated boosters as cases and deaths have declined from pandemic highs and most people have embraced a return to most of their pre-pandemic activities.
The White House said the funding for the new tests has been reallocated from other virus programs while the administration struggles to get congressional buy-in for additional COVID-19 emergency funding. A senior administration official declined to detail how much is being spent on the new tests or from which programs they were diverted.
In an interview with Spectrum News, Dr. Jha on Thursday once again reiterated the need for the additional money.
"We've been very clear to Congress that, like, COVID is not over. It's still around. We want to continue doing everything we can to protect and save American lives. And that obviously requires funding," he said.
That funding is needed for continued research to develop updated vaccines and treatments as COVID sticks around, the White House has said, plus to keep up the supply of additional tests this winter and beyond.
Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious disease expert who oversees special pathogens for the New York City health system, agreed with Jha that the U.S. is in a "much better place" this winter not only due to vaccines and treatments but also because of increased immunity.
"The name of the game really now is, you know, now that we have these resources, can you access these resources?" she said. "And how can you use them appropriately to keep yourself your family members and your loved ones safe?"
Madad recommended people test themselves before gatherings with family or friends -- once the day before and once the day of, which is one reason the COVID test kits come with two tests.
"If you are negative, but you still feel symptomatic, meaning you have a fever or you have a cough or a runny nose, or just the sniffles, don't just put that to the side," she added. "If you have any of those symptoms, you should really not be gathering with loved ones, especially indoors."
Madad said she was concerned that Congress would not pass additional funding for the coronavirus response, thinking that the pandemic is behind us.
"In fact, we are in a new surge of COVID-19," she said. "We need to continue to invest and to be able to make newer vaccines, make better therapeutics, make sure we have accessible tests and masks for all Americans, because we want to avoid infection at all costs."