PCR COVID-19 testing in the U.S. over the last couple of weeks has involved long waits in crumby conditions, and quests for rapid antigen tests have felt like a game of whack-a-mole.
As the omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread around the U.S., the White House is rolling out a website — COVIDtests.gov — where Americans can request that up to four rapid tests be shipped to their homes beginning next week.
The White House also announced Wednesday it would distribute 5 million free rapid tests and five million lab-based PRC tests to K-12 schools starting this month. Those allocations are on top of the more than $10 billion devoted to school-based tests authorized in the COVID-19 relief law.
"We’re doing everything we can to make sure that our children have an opportunity to stay in school," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told "CBS Mornings." "That’s where they need to be, and we know we can do it safely."
Americans will be able to either purchase home testing kits for free under their insurance or submit receipts for the tests for reimbursement, up to the monthly per-person limit.
Americans on Medicare will not be able to get tests reimbursed through the federal insurance plan, but Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program plans are required to cover the cost of at-home tests.
People who are not on a covered insurance plan can receive free tests through the forthcoming federal website or from some local community centers and pharmacies.
The push comes as the variant of concern has sent case numbers skyrocketing and after criticism of President Biden regarding a shortage of at-home rapid tests during the holiday season.
"This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them."
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing that the seven-day daily average of COVID-19 cases had increased by about 47% over the previous week. Hospitalizations had increased by approximately 33%.
The health leader told reporters that Americans should be testing whenever they have symptoms that appear to be COVID-19.
"So, fever, cough, sore throat, respiratory symptoms, muscle aches, when they're exposed – so five days after they've been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 – and certainly if you're going to gather with family, if you're going to a gathering where people are immunocompromised or where they're elderly or where you have people who might be unvaccinated or poorly protected from the vaccine, that might be an opportunity you'd want to test. And then, of course, for ‘test-to-stay’ in other protocols," Walensky explained.
Jordan Savitsky, who oversees COVID-19 testing programs for businesses as chief executive officer of ATC Alert Health, told Fox News last week that the brands of at-home tests don't matter.
"I would say I would take any test that I can get my hands on because, right now, we're just not in an environment where anyone has the luxury of choosing," he added.
While Savitsky said he believes the supply will eventually catch up with the demand, it may come too late for many Americans trying to navigate the omicron-fueled surge.
Scientists are seeing signals that the wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do so in the U.S.
"I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is most people are going to get COVID, all right?," U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said Tuesday. "What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.