U.S. Offers Free At-Home Covid Tests as Part of Winter Plan

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Citing new guidance for nursing homes that the administration had developed, Dr. Jha noted another dire statistic on Thursday: Less than half of nursing home residents have received an updated booster. As part of its winter plan, the administration said it would expand those eligible to vaccinate the elderly to include staff members at nursing homes.

Gigi Gronvall, a testing expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the at-home tests distributed through the mail would help allow vulnerable Americans who get Covid-19 to seek out treatments such as Paxlovid, an antiviral pill.

“Without Paxlovid, it could be deadly for people of advanced age,” she said of the virus.

The White House’s winter plan did not include any dramatic changes to the government’s approach to the pandemic, which the United States has now been grappling with for nearly three years.

“We’re at the limits of what kinds of tools are useful,” said Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who served a stint as the White House’s testing coordinator. “We have vaccines, we have antivirals, we have masks, we have tests. A lot of what is needed is getting them to people who need them the most.”

The program to provide at-home tests through the mail is reopening as lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working toward finalizing a spending package to keep the government funded through September. The Biden administration has asked for more than $9 billion in emergency funding for the pandemic response.

Republicans in Congress have resisted calls for more Covid-19 spending, arguing that the administration has demonstrated it can repurpose federal funds for virus-related needs. The renewal of the at-home test program could agitate some Republican lawmakers by suggesting that the government still has money it can draw on for the pandemic response, despite its pleas for more.

The administration began offering free at-home tests through the Postal Service in January after demand for coronavirus testing skyrocketed with the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant. Mr. Biden was sharply criticized for not moving earlier to secure tests for Americans, even as federal officials argued that they had acted aggressively in procuring them, including for schools and long-term care facilities.

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