Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Nearly half of the 500 million free COVID-19 tests the Biden administration offered to Americans still have not been claimed.
On the first day the COVIDtests.gov website opened in January, about 45 million orders were placed. Now officials say fewer than 100,000 orders are happening per day, according to The Associated Press.
Overall, Americans have placed 68 million orders for the packages of four free rapid tests per household, which are delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. That leaves about 46% of the stock still available to be ordered.
“We totally intend to sustain this market,” Tom Inglesby, MD, testing adviser for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, told the AP.
“We know the market is volatile and will come up and down with surges in variants,” he said.
As mask requirements are lifted across the country, consistent testing will become more important, the AP reported. People will need to test more often.
“If infection control is still our priority, testing is central,” Leana Wen, MD, a health policy expert and former Baltimore health commissioner, told the AP.
“Four tests per household for one family will only last you one time,” she said. “There should be enough tests for families to test twice a week.”
Inglesby told the AP that plans are falling into place to make that possible. Private insurers are now required to cover eight free rapid tests per person per month, he said, and Medicare coverage will start this spring. Free at-home tests are also available through some libraries, clinics, and community venues.
The White House has also put out a request to industry experts for ideas on how to sustain and expand domestic testing for the rest of this year, the AP reported. Now that demand has fallen for the free federal tests, allowing repeat orders could be one possibility.
Logistics will play a key role in an ongoing rollout. So far, the Biden administration has shipped more than 90% of the free tests that have been ordered on COVIDtests.gov, according to CBS News. Some orders were shipped as soon as 24 hours after being placed, but some Americans have waited for weeks for their tests to arrive.
“For many companies, this was something that they had never done before on this scale or at this speed,” Inglesby told CBS News. “And so it was all in, from the companies and from the government side and the logistics providers, whether they were trucks or planes moving things around.”
Challenges posed by the rollout have largely been fixed, CBS News reported. For some Americans whose addresses were rejected by the U.S. Postal Service form, updates have helped. For instance, orders can now go to residential P.O. boxes.
Other complicated situations, such as buildings that weren’t registered as apartments or university dorms, have mostly been addressed through service requests. Other issues can be fixed by filing requests with the U.S. Postal Service online or over the phone, CBS News reported.
As COVID-19 guidance continues to change, Americans will also need more detailed information about when and how often to test, Wen told the AP.
“Right now, it is still unclear,” she said.
The Associated Press: “Nearly half of Biden’s 500M free COVID tests still unclaimed.”
COVIDtests.gov: “Get free at-home COVID-19 tests.”
CBS News: “Biden administration has shipped more than 90% of free at-home COVID test orders.”