By ZECKY MILLER (AP White House Correspondent)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is once again making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households, unveiling its contingency plans for possible outbreaks of the coronavirus this winter.
After a three-month hiatus, the administration is making four rapid virus tests available through covidtests.gov starting Thursday, a senior administration official said. The official spoke to the program on condition of anonymity. Cases of COVID-19 increased markedly after the Thanksgiving holiday, and further increases are projected due to indoor gatherings and travel over Christmas and New Year’s.
The administration is putting staff and equipment on standby for when they are needed to help overcrowded hospitals and nursing homes, as was needed during previous waves of the virus. So far no requests for help have been received, but emergency teams, ventilators and personal protective equipment are ready, the official said.
The Biden administration is also calling on states and local governments to do more to encourage people to get the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which scientists say are more effective at protecting against serious illness and death than currently available variants. The administration reiterates best practices in nursing homes and long-term care facilities for virus prevention and treatment, and calls on administrators as well as governments to encourage vulnerable populations to get new vaccinations.
The planning comes as the administration struggles to convince most Americans to get the updated boosters, as cases and deaths have fallen from pandemic highs and most people have returned to most of their pre-pandemic activities.
Funding for the new tests has been reallocated from other virus programs, the official said, while the White House struggles to win congressional support for additional emergency COVID-19 funding. The official declined to specify how much is being spent on the new tests or from which programs they were rejected.