Nearly half of Biden’s 500 million free COVID tests are still unannounced
Nearly half of Biden’s 500 million free COVID tests are still unannounced

Nearly half of Biden’s 500 million free COVID tests are still unannounced

WASHINGTON (AP) – Nearly half of the 500 million free COVID-19 tests The Biden administration recently made available to the public has still not been claimed as virus cases plummet and people feel less urgent need to test.

Wild fluctuations in demand have been a subplot in the pandemic, from vaccines to hand alcohol, along with tests. On the first day of The White House test giveaway in January, COVIDtests.gov received over 45 million orders. Now officials say fewer than 100,000 orders a day are coming to the packages with four free quick tests per day. household, provided by US Postal Service.

Still, the White House sees the program as a step toward a deeper, even more resilient, test infrastructure that will meet demand increases and remain on standby as cases subside. “We fully intend to maintain this market,” said Dr. Tom Inglesby, Test Advisor for the COVID-19 Response Team, to the Associated Press. “We know the market is volatile and will come up and down with increases in variants.”

The White House says Americans have placed 68 million orders for packages of tests, leaving about 46% of the stock of tests that can still be ordered.

Testing is becoming more important the mask requirements are now eased, say some independent experts. “If infection control is still our priority, testing is central,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and commentator on the pandemic. “Four tests per household for one family will only hold you once. There should be enough tests for families to test twice a week.”

Inglesby maintains that the pieces fall into place to accommodate it.

Private insurance companies must now cover eight free quick tests per. person pr. month. Medicare coverage starts in the spring. The administration has also made free home tests available through libraries, clinics and other local venues. Capacity has been built for the more accurate PCR tests performed by laboratories. The White House recently sent a request to the industry for ideas on how to maintain and expand domestic testing for the remainder of this year.

Wen says people still need a guide on when to test and how often. “Right now, it’s still unclear,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s focal point for testing came under duress when the omicron variant took effect just before Christmas. Tests were frustratingly hard to come by and expensive. The White House is sensitive to criticism that help may have come too late.

“There is no doubt that some people found that they were positive about taking one of these tests and were able to prevent others from becoming infected,” said Tim Manning, COVID-19 supply coordinator. response team.

Around mid-December, with omicron projections uglier by the day, White House officials began discussing how to make free tests available to anyone who wanted one. But if the government started raising tests in the market, it would only make the shortage worse.

“One critical thing for us was that everything we did had to be done in a way that did not create a shortage in retail to the general public,” Manning said.

The White House hired the Pentagon and parts of the Health and Human Services Department, which had worked on the Trump administration’s vaccine development efforts to distribute vaccines. Logistics experts searched the globe for available tests. The postal service was appointed to receive the orders and deliver them.

That part turned out to be a good call, said Hana Schank, an expert in government technology projects with the think tank New America. The postal service already had a database of all addresses in the country and the means to deliver.

“At the federal level, the only people who have a database connected to a fulfillment engine would be the post office,” she said.

The project took less than a month to get ready, Manning said. “We said this is not online retail,” he said. “This is emergency preparedness, so we need to go as fast as possible.”

To make sure that it was not just the technology experts who would end up getting free tests, the administration targeted a share of the deliveries to people in low-income areas. The White House worked with service organizations to get the message out.

“We prioritized the processing of orders for the highest social vulnerability zip codes in the country,” said test advisor Inglesby.

One of the service groups was the National Association of Community Health Workers, whose members help people navigate the health care system. CEO Denise Smith said the group was able to use its website to link more than 630,000 people to COVIDtests.gov.

Overall, about 20% to 25% of the tests have gone to people in distressed areas, officials said.

Now that demand is far down, it is unclear what will happen to the White House giveaway program. Allowing reorders is an option.

Smith says groups like hers should make any profit. “We know where people are,” she said.

Although the program is still in its infancy, analyst Lindsey Dawson of the Kaiser Family Foundation believes its legacy may lie in making more people familiar with testing. “It can make someone familiar with using the tests and thinking about how they can use testing in their lives,” she said.

Savita Sharaf, a retiree from the Maryland suburbs outside the nation’s capital, said she ordered her free tests around mid-January and got them in early February. She has tried to preserve them, for extra peace of mind. In the stores, she could not find tests for less than $ 25.

“I’m so relieved because I can immediately test myself,” Sharaf said. “If we had a high vaccination rate, it would be a little easier to quit this program. But I feel we have to look at the next month or two to see what happens.”

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