Federal government relaunches free at-home COVID test program

Americans are able to order the tests at CovidTests.Gov beginning Monday.

September 25, 2023, 11:57 AM

The federal government program used for the last two winters to send free COVID tests to Americans' homes started up again Monday.

The government's move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently completed its process to roll out the latest COVID shot, targeted to match the circulating variants, and pharmacies began offering it days later.

At the website, CovidTests.Gov, each household will be able to order four free rapid tests, according to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a part of HHS that handles the federal stockpile of COVID tests.

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.

PHOTO: COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are seen in this illustration photo, Jan. 31, 2023.
COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are seen in this illustration photo, Jan. 31, 2023.
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE

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 site was temporarily shut down that fall as a political fight dragged on over COVID 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.

Still, the site relaunched again in December as cases began to climb again, then shut down this past June.

The government is now relaunching CovidTests.Gov again in time for a surge in cases this winter.

"We want them to be able to use those tests during this viral season -- fall, winter, respiratory viral season," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said.

The tests will come from a $600 million investment across 12 different domestic test manufacturers, which will yield around 200 million tests to boost the federal stockpile. Tests ordered from CovidTests.Gov will be pulled from that stockpile.

The funding for the free tests will come from money that was left over from a past supplemental COVID bill. Though the debt ceiling deal reached over the summer between President Joe Biden and Republicans did claw back about $30 billion in unspent COVID relief funds, officials said there was still enough leftover to put toward replenishing the testing stockpile this fall.

Officials said they didn't have an estimate yet for how many tests they expect Americans to order, given the shrinking demand for COVID precautionary measures. Roughly 755 million tests have been distributed through the website over the last two years.

But if there is high demand in the future, the $600 million investment that the government is making in U.S.-based COVID test companies will also serve to warm up the supply lines and get the production process underway, said Dawn O’Connell, the head of ASPR.

“Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans,” O’Connell said.

“ASPR’s investments in these domestic manufacturers will increase availability of tests in the future,” she said in a statement.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing to climb in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the week ending Sept. 9, data showed that hospitalizations increased 7.7% from 19,068 to 20,538 weekly hospitalizations -- an estimate that's likely an undercount, due to less available data without the public health emergency still in place.

ABC News' Mary Kekatos contributed to this report.

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