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The White House detailed plans Thursday to double the number of rapid Covid tests it will order and make available to the general public.
The Biden administration previously announced plans to procure 500 million at-home Covid tests, part of a White House effort to ease the strain on the nation's health care infrastructure brought on by surging caseloads across the country. In remarks on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced an additional commitment to bring the total number of tests his administration will order up to 1 billion.
The president said officials are "on track" to launch the website on which people can begin ordering the first run of these tests sometime next week, though he did not specify when the full allotment of 1 billion tests will be able to be made available to those who want them.
The order for additional at-home tests represents a further shift in the administration’s strategy only a short while after White House press secretary Jen Psaki and others downplayed the need for such widespread at-home testing measures to battle the virus’ transmission.
Biden said he understood the frustration and sense of fatigue that has set in among many people as the pandemic drags into its third year in the United States, but urged people to get vaccinated if they had not already done so.
"As long as we have tens of millions of people who will not get vaccinated, we have full hospitals and needless deaths," he said. "The single most important thing to determine your outcome in this pandemic is getting vaccinated.”
Earlier this week, the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury jointly issued guidance requiring private health insurers to reimburse people for up to eight over-the-counter tests per month, starting mid-January. On Wednesday, the White House also rolled out an expansion of its effort for in-school Covid testing.
Top health officials have also mulled whether to distribute high-quality masks to people nationwide, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resisted calls to revise its guidance in order to promote usage of more effective N-95 or KN-95 style masks. Biden himself made a plea for people to wear masks when they are around others indoors and seemed to co-sign the CDC's current guidance.
"I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks," he said. "I get it, but they’re a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the spread of the highly transmittable Omicron variant.”
The CDC itself has come under increasing fire for seemingly muddled messaging in recent weeks, particularly around recent changes to its advice regarding the amount of time people infected with the virus should isolate before reentering society.