Biden Plans to Double U.S. Covid Test Order, Adding 500 Million
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said his administration will double its order of rapid Covid tests to send to Americans, while also distributing “high quality” masks to help fight a surge of cases of the omicron variant.
Biden announced the plan to buy another 500 million at-home tests after widespread complaints about long lines at testing centers and a scarcity of rapid tests in stores. Meanwhile, consumer prices for masks offering the greatest protection are rising.
Health researchers have recommended the use of N95 and KN95 masks, saying they do a better job preventing the spread of the virus than cloth face coverings. As omicron surged, people have flocked to buy them, boosting their prices.
“For some Americans, a mask is not always affordable or convenient to get, so next week we’ll announce how we are making high-quality masks available to the American people for free,” Biden said.
Biden also announced that the U.S. military will deploy doctors, nurses and others to six hospitals in six states, including Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn and University Hospital in Newark. The workers are relief teams dispatched to ease pressures on overwhelmed health centers.
Biden warned that while vaccinated Americans are contracting omicron, the unvaccinated are far more likely to fall seriously ill, be hospitalized and die. New U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations are at a record high.
“They’re crowding our hospitals, leaving little room for anyone else,” he said. “As long as we have tens of millions of people who are not vaccinated we’re going to have full hospitals and needless deaths.”
It’s not clear how many masks will be available to Americans, when they’ll be provided and whether they’re new purchases or already in a stockpile. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday more details would be provided next week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its mask recommendations for Americans. Director Rochelle Walensky this week signaled the agency wouldn’t recommend higher-grade masks outright, saying the most important thing is that people wear some kind of face covering.
“The best mask for you is the one that you can wear comfortably,” she said Wednesday.
Biden in December announced his administration would send 500 million tests at no charge to Americans who request them. The purchase and contracting process is ongoing. The initial order is set to begin shipping this month, but the administration has not said how long it will take to receive all the tests and make them available.
Tom Inglesby, Biden’s testing coordinator, said this week that the government will use its purchasing power to keep test production high, even as demand recedes, as a way to prevent future shortfalls.
The administration is tapping existing supplies of test kits stored in warehouses for the first 500 million tests Biden promised last month. The suppliers have a stockpile of unused Covid-19 tests, Dawn O’Connell, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response, told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Psaki said the administration has procured 380 million tests so far.
The White House will release details on how to order the tests by the end of this week, Psaki said Wednesday.
The Biden administration will begin the contracting process for the second order of 500 million tests once it finalizes purchase of the first tranche.
Biden also promised earlier this week that he would supply 5 million free rapid tests per month to schools, separately from the millions he’ll provide to the general public. The White House has also set up testing sites across the country for people who need one urgently, or who can’t find an at-home test.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.