With cases of the flu, RSV and COVID-19 rising and hospitals filling up nationwide, the Biden Administration on Wednesday announced a "winter preparedness plan" for what could be a tough season ahead.
One step towards protecting Americans from spreading infection: Restarting a program where every household in the country is eligible to receive four free COVID-19 nasal swab testing kits, the White House said in a statement on the plan.
One request per household will be filled via COVIDtests.gov in a "limited round of ordering this winter," a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday, CBS News reported. The first test kits will be sent out the week of Dec. 19 via the U.S. Postal Service. Other kits will be sent to federally funded senior housing and food banks.
"Procurements are ongoing and so I can't give you exact numbers on how this is going to land, but we feel confident that we are going to have enough tests to get through this round, four per household, in the coming weeks," the official said.
The free COVID test program was halted in September after further funding for pandemic response programs was curtailed by Congress. The administration official said the COVID test program restart was funded by funds from the American Rescue Plan after "hard choices" were made over funding priorities, CBS News reported.
According to the official, "we're able to reopen COVIDtests.gov for a limited round because, in the absence of congressional funding, we've acted within our limited resources to buy more at-home tests for our national stockpile," CBS News reported.
The White House official said the new free 4-test kits are in addition to the eight COVID tests per month that private insurance companies must provide coverage for under current regulations.
The new winter preparedness plan comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations soars and nursing homes rates of the illness not seen since February. Some cities are reinstating indoor masking recommendations -- even as COVID-19 vaccination rates decline. According to recent statistics, just 15.5% of American adults have gotten the latest booster shot that better protects them against Omicron variants.
"We have a whole series of tools we use for mitigation, preventing serious illness, preventing infections. Masks should be one of them. They shouldn't be exalted. They should not be diminished. They are one of the tools we have. People should use them when they want to," Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID-19 coordinator, said Tuesday at an event hosted by "Health Affairs."
As part of the winter preparedness plan, nursing home staff can now vaccinate vulnerable residents.
"We have the tools we need to prevent deaths and severe illness, and we want all nursing homes to take action now," the official said.
The White House is also stockpiling medical supplies to help with a surge in cases, and readying special medical teams to help if needed.
In the meantime, masks and vaccines are at hand for all Americans.
"We don't ask and demand people use all the tools, but the more you use, the safer you will be," Jha said.
For more information:
Head to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: White House, statement, Dec. 15, 2022; CBS News