Lifestyle Health Biden Administration to Send 500 Million Free At-Home COVID Tests Directly to Americans The shipments, however, will not begin until January By Julie Mazziotta Julie Mazziotta Twitter Julie Mazziotta is the Sports Editor at PEOPLE, covering everything from the NFL to tennis to Simone Biles and Tom Brady. She was previously an Associate Editor for the Health vertical for six years, and prior to joining PEOPLE worked at Health Magazine. When not covering professional athletes, Julie spends her time as a (very) amateur athlete, training for marathons, long bike trips and hikes. People Editorial Guidelines Published on December 21, 2021 01:43 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos At-home COVID-19 test. Photo: Getty The Biden administration is set to announce Tuesday that they will send free, at-home COVID-19 test kits to any American who requests one, amid a surge in cases with the highly contagious omicron variant. Ahead of President Joe Biden's planned speech on the state of the pandemic on Tuesday, the White House shared the new plan to "battle omicron." One of the key highlights is the plan to distribute as many as 500 million at-home test kits to anyone who signs up for them on a website that the White House is in the process of creating. The announcement comes amid massive shortages of antigen COVID-19 tests around the country, with Americans buying them up as new infections hit nearly record-breaking levels just before the Christmas and New Year holidays. However, the free government test kits will not be available until January, the White House said. They also did not specify how many each household is allowed to request. COVID Variant Omicron Now Accounts for More Than 70 Percent of U.S. Cases, CDC Says Along with the at-home test kits, Biden will announce plans to set up additional free federal testing sites to add to the 20,000 already in place, with the first opening in New York City — which has one of the highest numbers of omicron cases in the country — before Christmas. The Biden administration is also deploying an additional 1,000 service members — including military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical staff — to hospitals around the country that are struggling with COVID-19 cases. Those troop members will start in January and February, while six emergency response teams with more than 100 personnel will be immediately heading to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont, which are all inundated with COVID-19 patients. RELATED VIDEO: Doctor Says Fully Vaccinated People Are Going to Test Positive with Omicron: 'Our New Normal' On Tuesday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said that the U.S. "cannot take [omicron] lightly." "You're dealing with a virus that has an unprecedented capability of spreading extremely rapidly," Fauci said on Today. "We've really not seen anything like this before. It has a doubling time of about two days." In the two weeks since omicron was first identified in the U.S., it has already become the dominant variant, accounting for 73% of new infections between Dec. 12 and 18, the Centers for Disease Control said Monday. Just a week earlier, it represented just 12% of cases. Unvaccinated Houston Man First Known Death in the U.S. from Omicron COVID Variant Researchers in South Africa have found that omicron appears to produce a milder illness than previous COVID-19 variants, though with already-overwhelmed hospitals U.S. health officials are preparing for the worst. "It very well may be less severe, we're hoping that's the case, and we're hoping as this evolves here in the United States, that that will be our experience," Fauci said. "But even if it is, the quantity of infections given the extraordinary efficiency of spread, might actually obviate that diminution in severity to the point where you still get a lot of significant disease, so we cannot take this lightly at all." Fauci said that people should be fully vaccinated and boosted if they're gathering for the holidays, and try to get tested beforehand. As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.