4 more free COVID tests will be available to each household ahead of the holidays
The winter season is expected to bring a resurgence of the virus.
Ahead of the approaching holidays and a potential rise in cases this winter, the government is once again allowing households to order a fresh wave of four COVID-19 tests for free online.
The website, covidtests.gov, remains one of the last remaining ways Americans can secure free at-home rapid test after the end of the public health emergency last spring ended the requirement for insurance companies to cover eight tests per month.
Over the past three years, the return of winter has also brought a resurgence of COVID-19. According to modeling data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health officials are anticipating a similar number of hospitalizations this year as they saw last year, which topped nearly 45,000 per week at its peak.
The test ordering site relaunched last month, offering four tests per household, and will now offer an additional four tests per household for anyone who has already ordered -- or eight tests per household for anyone who hasn't placed an order yet this fall.
Since September, about 14.5 million households have ordered tests, for a total of 58 million tests shipped, according to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, or ASPR, a department within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Health officials said they are hopeful people will take advantage of the free tests to better prepare for gathering with other people, particularly those who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, during the holiday season.
"We're going to see families gather with older loved ones and younger loved ones and it's important that they are able to protect their loved ones from COVID as we head into the winter months," said Dawn O'Connell, head of ASPR.
"So we think opening [COVIDTests.Gov] up right before the winter holidays really kick in is going to be very important for the American people, to provide this access for the free four tests again," she said.
Some of the free tests that the government has stockpiled are also up against impending expiration dates, another reason to move the tests along, O'Connell said. The Food and Drug Administration recently extended expiration dates for many at-home tests, but they still have a relatively short shelf life.
"We know that the tests are going to be good for the next several months. They're not going to be good forever. And so we think it's important that we go ahead and have them in the hands of the American people so they can use them and protect themselves as we head into the winter," O'Connell said.
The website for free at-home tests has had an on-and-off presence since the winter of 2022, when the omicron variant was driving cases up across the country.
At the time, President Joe Biden pledged to give out 1 billion free rapid tests to ease soaring demand and an overwhelmed test manufacturing industry.
But the government site was temporarily shut down that fall as a political fight dragged on over COVID-19 funding. Administration officials said they had to conserve tests in case they didn't get agreement from Republicans to allocate more money -- which they didn't.
Conservatives have become more skeptical of continually providing billions to respond to the pandemic, including by pointing to fraud that marred some of the aid.
The testing site relaunched again in December 2022 as cases began to climb again, then shut down this past June, before relaunching in September of this year.
The tests will come from a $600 million investment in domestic test manufacturers, which will yield around 200 million tests and replenish the federal stockpile. Tests ordered from covidtests.gov will be pulled from that stockpile.
The funding for the $600 million investment will come from money that was left over from a past supplemental COVID-19 bill. Though the debt ceiling deal reached over the summer between Biden and Republicans in Congress did claw back about $30 billion in unspent relief funds, administration officials said there was still enough left over to put toward replenishing the testing stockpile this fall.