The White House is starting a third round of free rapid COVID-19 tests for Americans to order directly to their homes, as the Biden administration continues to urge Congress to pass additional pandemic funding despite lower hospitalization and death rates among a more vaccinated population.
On Tuesday, the White House reopened COVIDTests.gov for US households to order eight additional at-home rapid tests. Previously, each household – regardless of the amount of residents – were only able to order four tests per order.
The third round of test deliveries comes five months after President Biden vowed to make one billion at-home COVID-19 tests available to all Americans.
So far, the administration has only delivered 350 million tests to more than 70 million households across the nation, US territories and other military bases, according to the White House.
“As the highly transmissible subvariants of Omicron drive a rise in cases in parts of the country, free and accessible tests will help slow the spread of the virus,” the White House said in a statement.
The tests were purchased earlier this year through funding from the American Rescue Plan.
“Since January 2021, the Biden Administration has taken significant action and invested resources provided by Congress to dramatically increase domestic COVID-19 testing manufacturing, the number of tests authorized for use in the U.S., and the number of places where Americans can get a test, as well as to decrease costs for consumers and increase access to free tests,” the White house continued, calling testing a “critical tool” in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
As part of Tuesday’s announcement, the Biden administration made another plea to Congress to pass additional COVID-19 funding as cases continue to rise again but also as hospitalization and deaths have dramatically decreased as more Americans have been vaccinated and strains have weakened.
For example, in New York City, which on Tuesday elevated its transmission level for the virus to high alert, COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased since the beginning of May — from a 72-person seven-day average on May 1 to 58 as of Friday, the most recent day for which city data is available.
And at the end of last week, the health department reported a seven-day COVID-19 death average of four — down from five recorded on May 1 and nowhere near the rates being recorded a year ago.
In addition, many of those being diagnosed as positive in hospitals were admitted for other reasons. Statewide, of 2,497 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently hospitalized, only 47.5% or 1,185 patients have COVID complications or illness, data shows.
More than 52%, or 1,312, who tested positive for COVID were admitted for other reasons, according to New York state Department of Health figures.
“Due to Congress’ failure to provide additional funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response, the Administration cannot continue making the types of federal investments needed to sustain domestic testing manufacturing capacity, and this may jeopardize the federal government’s ability to provide free tests moving forward,” the White House said.
“Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to doing everything in our power to ensure the American people have the lifesaving tools they need—so they are prepared for whatever comes. Congress must step up and act as well.”
The Biden administration first asked Congress to approve $22.5 billion for coronavirus treatments, tests, vaccines and research in March. Democrats were seeking to pair the legislation with a bill funding the government through Sept. 30, however it was eventually cut out due to Republican objections.
In April, Senate Republicans again blocked efforts to pass COVID-19 spending – this time approximately $10 billion – by insisting an amendment be added to keep the Title 42 health authority in place along the southern border.
Since the start of the pandemic, the policy has allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants without hearing asylum claims. The order is set to expire May 23.
Tuesday’s statement comes just one week after Biden made a direct call to Congress as the US hit the “tragic milestone” of 1 million US deaths from the coronavirus.
“As a nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow,” the president said. “To heal, we must remember. We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines, and treatments than ever before. It’s critical that Congress sustain these resources in the coming months.”
Amid their objections, many Republican lawmakers have insisted no new funding is necessary.
Additional reporting by Sam Raskin