WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced last month that the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free to people to use at home. But despite high public demand for tests, it will still be several more weeks before these kits are available to be shipped, White House officials said.
DOES THE GOVERNMENT HAVE THE TESTS?
Not yet. This week marked the close of an initial bidding period for test manufacturers to apply to the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services for contracts to make the tests. The first contract, worth $51.6 million, was awarded Thursday and a second for 13.3 million tests was assigned Friday. Additional contracts will be signed in the coming weeks, officials said. All 500 million kits will not arrive at the same time. They will be delivered in batches over months.
WHEN WILL THE TEST KITS BE DELIVERED?
The federal government is expected to get delivery of the first batch of tests “over the next week or so," according to White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients. Americans will start receiving them “in the coming weeks” he added.
MY DRUGSTORE DOESN’T HAVE ANY TESTS. HOW CAN I GET A FREE KIT FROM THE GOVERNMENT?
You’ll go to a new government website to request a kit, but the site won’t be operating until after the first batch of test kits has been delivered to the government. “We’re obviously not going to put the website up until there are tests available,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told the Washington Post Friday that U.S. Postal Service officials "have been working closely with the Administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits on the first day the program launches."
The Post reported Thursday that the Biden administration was talking with labor unions to keep roughly 40,000 people who were hired for holiday seasonal work to stay on and help with the distribution.
WHICH HOME TEST WILL I GET?
It's unclear. But Psaki noted that the Food and Drug Administration has approved several different brands of rapid home tests that are currently on the market. While they are packaged differently and may use slightly different procedures, officials said, their mechanisms of detection and effectiveness are generally the same.
WILL I BE LIMITED TO ONE TEST OR CAN I REQUEST MULTIPLE?
To be determined. Officials are also working on policies for how frequently people can request a free test. That's expected to come with a new focus on educating Americans about best practices for when they should take a test.
WHY IS BIDEN BUYING THESE TEST KITS?
It represents an acknowledgement by the president that the administration needs to do more to increase access to COVID-19 testing, which is an important tool to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In cases where infected people show symptoms or not, testing is the only way to find out if they have the virus so they can avoid being out and about and potentially spreading disease.
Demand for test kits soared as the holidays neared and people grew eager to test themselves and their families before traveling and as the easily transmissible omicron variant spread rapidly in just a few weeks to become dominant strain in the U.S.
Biden's promise of 500 million test kits is in addition to the administration's earlier pledge to send 50 million rapid tests to community health centers across the country.
HOW MUCH WILL THE PROGRAM COST?
The purchase will be paid for with money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Biden signed into law in March, the White House said. The exact cost will be known soon.
IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO GET A TEST KIT FOR FREE
Starting Jan. 15, private insurers will be required to cover the cost of at-home testing, the same way they cover the cost of PCR lab tests. People will have the option of buying tests at a store or online, then seeking reimbursement from their health insurance provider. Those with public health insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, or without insurance, will be directed to the forthcoming website to order tests or to community health centers in their area offering free testing.
WILL THE GOVERNMENT PROGRAM MAKE IT HARDER FOR ME TO FIND A TEST AT THE DRUGSTORE?
White House officials say the government tests are coming from new manufacturing capacity and should not interfere with existing supplies that drugstores, health clinics and state governments are relying on.
“These are additional tests," Zients said, made possible by the fact that the FDA has authorized many new ones in the last few months. “So, there’s a lot more capacity for rapid tests.”