Biden Administration to Send 500 Million Free At-Home COVID Tests Directly to Americans

The shipments, however, will not begin until January

covid19 home test
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.

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.

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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.

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.

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