President Joe Biden Wednesday announced that his administration is launching covid.gov, a new one-stop shop for information on the COVID-19 pandemic, including a test-to-treat locator where people can access pharmacies and health centers to get tested for COVID-19 and immediately receive treatment if necessary.
It also connects users to the site where they can order free COVID-19 tests, learn more about free masks and where to find them and locate vaccination sites near them.
Following the announcement Wednesday, Biden received his second COVID-19 booster shot, one day after the FDA and CDC authorized a second COVID-19 booster shot for adults 50 and older and immunocompromised Americans.
The U.S. has now set up more than 2,000 test-to-treat sites nationwide according to the White House, an initiative President Biden announced in his State of the Union address, and in the last 14 months, the administration has established more than 90,000 vaccination sites and made millions of high-quality masks and COVID-19 tests available for free.
"We're now in a new moment in this pandemic, but it does not mean the COVID-19 is over," Biden said.
"The bottom line, no longer will Americans have to scour the internet to find vaccines, treatments, tests or masks. It's all there," he added.
The website includes:
- COVID-19 guidance and infection levels for your community, searchable by county
- Information about COVID-19 symptoms, at-home testing and travel
- Where to find a vaccine or boster
- A form to order free COVID-19 tests
- Information about masks and where to find them
- A test-to-treat locator
The announcement comes as a battle for additional federal COVID-19 funding is brewing on Capitol Hill. The White House initially asked for $22.5 billion in new COVID-19 funding, including money to help battle future variants. Congress had initially included $15.6 billion in funding in its $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill, but it was removed after Republicans and some Democrats could not come to consensus on offsets.
Biden on Wednesday used his speech to urge Congress to come to an agreement on the additional funding, warning it could stall funding for second booster shots if they are approved for more Americans, plus he said it could hinder testing capacity.
"Americans are back to living their lives again. We can't surrender that now," he said. "Congress, please act. You have to act immediately."
Biden also said the lack of funding has already impacted the distribution of COVID treatments.
"Take monoclonal antibodies, for example. They've helped save lives. This isn't partisan, it's medicine. But Congress hasn't provided enough money to keep purchasing these monoclonal antibodies," he said. "We've had to cancel planned orders and cut the supply we're sending to the states."
Biden said the supply would run out by the end of May without more funding.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told Spectrum News that the funding is essential to help combat future pandemics.
"We don't know what's going to happen in the future," Dr. Fauci said. "And as long as there's a lot of virus that is being spread throughout the world, there's a danger that there will be variants, and we've got to be prepared for them, prepared that when they come, we make sure people get vaccinated, they get tested."
Dr. Fauci's comments come as the omicron subvariant BA.2, also known as “stealth omicron,” is now dominant in the United States. Fifty-five percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are now BA.2, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 39% last week, and up from 7.4% a month ago.
Although the variant is highly transmissible, Dr. Fauci says he doesn’t anticipate a surge in cases that would strain hospitals.
"I was on the phone with several of the health commissioners throughout the country last night, and they were telling me that they was starting to see very minor types of upticks but no increase in the requirement for hospitalization," Dr. Fauci told Spectrum News.
Democrats were forced to strip the funding from the package after dozens of their rank-and-file members balked at a GOP-driven plan to use American Rescue Plan money earmarked for states to help pay for it, threatening to hold up movement on the larger package, which included crucial aid to Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he has made "good progress" on additional COVID funding, working with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, but warned "we're not there yet."
A new report released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy think tank, said that many Americans, largely those uninsured, would be impacted if Congress does not approve another round of COVID-19 emergency funding.
Some are already feeling the effects. The Health Resources and Services Administration stopped accepting claims last week to reimburse health care providers for testing and treating uninsured people for COVID-19, and it will stop accepting claims for vaccination reimbursements April 5. The program has provided about $19 billion in reimbursements, with 60% going toward testing, 31% to treatment and 9% to vaccinations.
The Kaiser Family Foundation says the lack of funding would lead to more Americans needing to pay out of pocket for COVID-19 treatments and services, which would exacerbate existing disparities in health and financial security.
Uninsured people — who are more likely to be people of color than white — would be hit hardest, according to the analysis.
In addition to the COVID-19 Uninsured Program, 15 states have opted to provide Medicaid coverage to insured people for COVID-19 testing, treatment services and vaccines — coverage that is set to expire at the end of March.
There are some federal programs that may help cover the costs of providing vaccines to uninsured children and adults, but some parents may still end up paying an administration fee and the adult program is dependent on available funding.
But the dried-up COVID-response funds would also impact insured Americans, the report says.
People with Medicaid and Medicare will continue to have access to clinical COVID-19 testing and vaccines at no additional costs, and COVID-19 treatment medications will be fully covered for those on Medicaid, according to the foundation. Medicare beneficiaries, however, may have to pay out of pocket for medications when the public health emergency expires April 16, although it previously has been extended a number of times.
Americans with private insurance, meanwhile, could be required to share the costs — such as copayments, coinsurance, deductibles — with insurance companies for monoclonal antibodies, antiviral pills. And insured customers who receive vaccines from out-of-network providers could face higher costs, the report says.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s report also notes that the lack of federal funding would mean that the government may no longer be able to commit in advance to purchasing large orders of tests, treatments and vaccines. Without that guarantee, manufacturers could scale back production when demand declines, potentially creating supply shortages during future COVID-19 surges.
Spectrum News' Ryan Chatelain contributed to this report.