January 20, 2022

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Covid US: Biden administration officials warn delivery of new test kits could take 7-12 days

Covid US: Biden administration officials warn delivery of new test kits could take 7-12 days
The Biden Administration says it will start sending out at-home covid tests from a new government web site on Wednesday – but with a delivery window that could last longer than a typical case of covid.The administration has contracted for more than 420 million home tests kits, a senior administration official told reporters on a…

The Biden Administration says it will start sending out at-home covid tests from a new government web site on Wednesday – but with a delivery window that could last longer than a typical case of covid.

The administration has contracted for more than 420 million home tests kits, a senior administration official told reporters on a press call Friday. The tests will be free to the American public, with each household able to order up to four of them. 

 But with current wait times, it will take between 7 and 12 days for shipment within the continental, the official said. The U.S. Postal Service will be providing first class package delivery.

‘We anticipate that that window will shorten as we get further along in this program,’ said the official.

Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories may have to wait longer for ‘priority mail’ delivery.’

Those wait times may prove longer than some Americans are used to. A quick online search Friday revealed that Amazon.com could deliver a lawnmower by Monday, a holiday. Even in-demand at-home covid tests were available for delivery by Wednesday, the day the program goes live.

The White House announced the testing plan as new data showed the omicron variant is starting to burn out and the infection rate has slowed in 44 states over the last two days.

National case growth is slowing as well, with the daily case average stagnating around 786,000 after rocketing in recent weeks.

President Joe Biden said this week the administration would be sending out 500 million covid tests on top of the 500 million already being ordered for distribution

BIDEN’S PLAN TO SEND OUT ONE BILLION TESTS: A BREAKDOWN

  • Website to order free tests will go online Wednesday January 19
  •  Tests will ‘typically’ ship within seven to 10 days of ordering
  • Households can order four each
  • Testing kits will be sent through the United States Postal Service in a First Class Package.
  • White House will ‘to ensure this program reaches our hardest-hit and highest-risk communities’.
  • Health insurers will cover eight at-home test per person from Saturday.
  • A family of four, therefore, will be able to have 32 tests covered.
  • 10 million tests are going out to schools to keep them open. 

Americans can visit covidtests.gov to order their free tests.

The site was live Friday, but said ordering begins Jan. 19th.  There is no queue for advance ordering.

The kickoff date is the same day Biden plans to hold his first full press conference in more than 70 days. 

Officials have said they don’t expect problems with the web launch. The Obama administration dealt with months of headaches over the launch of its complicated Healthcare.gov web site. 

‘We’re taking our website launch very seriously. We didn’t start from scratch,’ said the official. 

One problem posed by the nationwide shortage of tests is that people who fear they got covid or had a close contact who tested positive may want test information to make decisions about their activities. 

The tests come as the U.S. has been hitting peaks for infections and hospitalizations amid the omicron variant. Some experts believe the waive could peak soon, which may mean many of the tests go out after it has passed. 

A free call line will help people who have ‘difficulty accessing the internet,’ according to the administration.

Additionally, as of January 15 the administration is requiring private insurance companies will to cover at-home COVID-19 tests.

According to an administration fact sheet, ‘In addition to this new program, there are many other options for Americans to get tested. There are now over 20,000 free testing sites across the nation, including four times as many pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy free testing program as there were in January 2021, as well as federal surge free testing sites, with more free testing sites opening each week.’

Tests have also gone to community health centers, and schools were awarded a total of $10 billion for testing. 

While cases are still on an upward trajectory, the massive slowing in cases adds to the growing body of evidence that the new strain is starting to run out of people to infect – a phenomena predicted by many U.S. health experts in recent weeks.

An analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University finds that the U.S. is averaging 786,406 new cases per day, a 121 percent jump over the past two weeks, and a 30 percent increase over the past seven days. For comparison, last Thursday, January 6, the U.S. was averaging 607,064 cases per day, a 70 percent increase over the previous week then. That means week over week case growth has more than slashed in half over the first half of January.

While the U.S. set a one day record of over 1.4 million cases on Tuesday, the figure was inflated as a result of weekend reporting lags, and is not reflective of single day averages. The current 786,000 cases per day is the most America has ever experienced.

The largest drops in case growth in recent days have been experienced in Northeast, with states that were once seeing meteoritic case growth now seeing case rates starting to taper off. In New York and New Jersey, states that experienced a more than seven-fold increase in cases early in the Omicron surge are now seeing increases of around 40 percent over the past two weeks.

The new web site starts taking orders next week

New York is averaging 350 new Covid cases per every 100,000 residents every day, a 45 percent increase over two weeks. While the Empire state is still among the national leaders in infection rate, it could slowly slide down the leaderboards.

Neighboring New Jersey is also among the U.S. leaders in infection rate, with 314 of every 100,000 residents testing positive daily. Like New York, cases in the Garden state are up 40 percent over the past two weeks, a sharp slow down from the tripling of cases the state experienced the start the new year.

Other states that were recording surges in recent weeks like Maryland, Georgia and Illinois have all seen case growth taper off in mid-January, signaling the peak is near in many U.S. states.

Once the peak is reached, cases could quickly start to decline. In the UK, which trends ahead of the U.S., cases are dropping by nearly 40 percent over the past week, a miraculous decline for a nation that many people felt was going to be totally overwhelmed by the virus only weeks ago. The nation’s capital, London, emerged as an early global hotspot for the variant, and has already seen cases fall off as well.

South Africa, the place of Omicron’s discovery and the first place to feel the effects of the highly infectious variant, has seen a massive drop in daily cases in recent weeks as well, with current daily case figures hovering around 6,500 – down 70 percent from the late December peak on 23,000 cases per day.

While Covid cases are still trending upwards in all 50 states, the level of change has shrunk in 44 of the 50 U.S. states, signaling that Covid cases in America are reaching their peak and will soon start to decline

People stand in line to receive 2 free at home COVID-19 Antigen Rapid test kits at the Gaithersburg Public Library in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, 12 January 2022. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus pandemic is the dominant strain in many countries as case numbers spike around the world

There has been a nationwide surge in demand for tests

In the U.S., case changes are usually calculated on a two week basis. Due to the large, decentralized nature of America when compared to other countries, reporting day to day can be inconsistent. Some states log cases on all five weekdays and even weekends, while others may only report cases once a week.

To normalize for the inconsistencies, daily case counts are averaged on a weekly basis and compared to each other over two week spans to determine case change rate.

A decreasing case change rate in 44 of America’s 50 states on Thursday when compared to Wednesday – along with a decreasing national case change rate, shows that the recent changes are not just outliers, but a real nationwide pandemic trend. 

Many experts have also predicted a peak being reached in the U.S. in the near future. Dr Ali Mokdad, of the University of Washington in Seattle, told the Associated Press this week that he also believes the same will occur, and that cases could even start rapidly declining soon.

‘It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,’ Mokdad, who teaches health metrics at the school, said.

Dr Pavitra Roychoudhury, a bioinformatics expert also at the University of Washington, told DailyMail.com that more tests than ever are coming back positive at the moment, and while it is overwhelming, the recent surge should peak soon.

‘My understanding is that eventually there’ll be enough people will infected that there’ll be some sort of some sort of immunity that will be established,’ she said.

‘That will result in those case numbers plateauing, and then starting to turn down again… It can’t come soon enough.’

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease and the country’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday the variant will eventually infect almost everyone in America.

‘Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody,’ Fauci said

‘Those who have been vaccinated … and boosted would get exposed. Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death.’

New York and New Jersey were not the only states to see case growth slow in recent weeks.  Maryland is now posting the lowest rate of new cases in America, with new daily cases up by 33 percent over the past two weeks. The state was among the leaders in case growth recently, though issues with data reporting earlier in the winter made some of its December figures unreliable.

Illinois was once an outlier in the Midwest due to high case growth compared to its peers. While many of its neighbors and states out west in the Great Plains were seeing cases decline in mid-December, the state still suffered case increases – mainly fueled by an outbreak in Chicago.

The variant is burning out their as well, though, with cases only up 71 percent over the past two weeks, and the infection rate stalling out.

Georgia was far ahead of its neighbors in case growth in the U.S. south last week as well, with an Atlanta Covid surge causing statewide numbers to surge last week. While cases are still up – the Peach state has recorded a 64 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks – it is now the only state in the region where cases have not doubled over the past 14 days.

The states seeing case growth start to shrink are at their peaks – of course – but that also means their current infection rates are the highest. In New York, 350 of every 100,000 residents are testing positive for Covid every day, the second highest rate in the nation. 

BIDEN’S PLAN TO DISTRIBUTE ONE BILLION TESTS: FULL FACT SHEET  

The Biden Administration to Begin Distributing At-Home, Rapid COVID-19 Tests to Americans for Free

The Biden Administration is Buying One Billion Tests to Give to Americans for Free; Online Ordering of a Half-Billion Tests Begins on January 19th; Builds on Significant Actions to Expand Testing Capacity and Increase Access to Free Testing

Testing is an important tool to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that Americans use at-home tests if they begin to have symptoms, at least five days after coming in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, or are gathering indoors with a group of people who are at risk of severe disease or unvaccinated.

To help ensure Americans have tests on hand if a need arises, the Biden Administration is purchasing one billion at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests to give to Americans for free. A half-billion tests will be available for order on January 19th and will be mailed directly to American households.

There will be free tests available for every household, and to promote broad access, the initial program will allow four free tests to be requested per residential address. Starting January 19th, Americans will be able to order their tests online at COVIDTests.gov, and tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering.

To ensure equity and access for all Americans, the Administration will also launch a call line to help those unable to access the website to place orders, and work with national and local community-based organizations to support the nation’s hardest-hit and highest-risk communities in requesting tests.

In addition to this new program, there are many other options for Americans to get tested. There are now over 20,000 free testing sites across the nation, including four times as many pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy free testing program as there were in January 2021, as well as federal surge free testing sites, with more free testing sites opening each week. Millions of free, at-home COVID-19 tests have been delivered to thousands of community health centers and rural health clinics to distribute to their patients, with more delivered each week. In addition, the Administration provided schools $10 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to get tests to K-12 school districts. And, the Administration invested nearly $6 billion in ARP funding to cover free testing for uninsured individuals, and support testing in correctional facilities, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and mental health facilities.

Just this week, the Administration also announced that starting January 15th, private health insurance companies will be required to cover at-home COVID-19 tests for free—and made an additional 10 million COVID-19 tests available to schools nationwide, each month.

Since January 2021, the Administration has taken significant action to dramatically increase the nation’s overall COVID-19 testing supply, the number of tests authorized for use in the U.S., and the number of places where Americans can get a test, while lowering costs for consumers and increasing access to free tests.

This comprehensive approach has produced important results: Today, there are nine at-home, rapid tests on the market in the U.S.—up from zero when the President took office. In December, there were more than 300 million at-home, rapid tests available in the U.S. market, up from 24 million in August—a more than 10-fold rise. This month, the number of at-home, rapid tests available to the U.S. market will rise to 375 million—in addition to the free tests available through COVIDTests.gov.

Distributing At-Home, Rapid COVID-19 Tests to American Homes for Free: This program will ensure that Americans have at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available in the weeks and months ahead—in addition to the number of other ways they can get tested. The Administration is quickly completing a contracting process for the unprecedented purchase of one billion at-home, rapid tests to distribute as part of this program. The Department of Defense, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, has already awarded several of the contracts that will result from this process—with over 420 million tests already under contract. Given the incredible volume of tests being procured and the diversity of manufacturers, additional contracts will continue to be awarded over the coming weeks.

Ordering Process: Starting on January 19th, Americans will be able to order a test online at COVIDTests.gov. To ensure broad access, the program will limit the number of tests sent to each residential address to four tests. Tests will usually ship within 7-12 days of ordering.

Distribution and Delivery Process: The Administration will partner with the United States Postal Service to package and deliver tests to Americans that want them. All orders in the continental United States will be sent through First Class Package Service, with shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, and the U.S. Territories and APO/FPO/DPO addresses sent through Priority Mail.

Ensuring Equity and Reaching Hardest-Hit Communities: The Administration is taking a number of steps to ensure this program reaches our hardest-hit and highest-risk communities. This includes prioritizing processing orders to households experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly during this Omicron surge; launching a free call line, so that Americans who have difficulty accessing the internet or need additional support can phone-in orders for their tests; and, working with national and local organizations with deep experience serving communities of color, people living with disabilities, and other high-risk communities to serve as navigators, raise awareness about the program, and help people submit requests.

The Biden Administration continues acting aggressively to further increase equitable access to free COVID-19 testing for all Americans, as testing needs arise. This includes:

Requiring Health Insurers to Cover the Cost of At-Home COVID-19 Tests Starting January 15th: On Monday, the Administration announced that, starting January 15th, private insurance companies will be required to cover at-home COVID-19 tests. This means consumers with private health insurance coverage will be able to get these tests for free. Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover eight free at-home tests per covered individual per month. That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month. As part of the requirement, the Administration is strongly incentivizing plans and insurers to allow people to get these tests directly through preferred pharmacies or retailers with no out-of-pocket costs, with the plan or insurer covering the cost upfront, eliminating the need for people to submit reimbursement claims.

• Making 10 Million More Tests Available to Schools Nationwide: On Wednesday, the Administration took new actions to increase access to COVID-19 testing in schools. This includes increasing the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month to help schools safely remain open and implement screening testing and test-to-stay programs—which will allow schools to double the volume of testing they were performing in November 2021—and supporting free testing access for students, school staff, and families through federal testing sites. These actions double down on the Administration’s commitment to keeping all schools safely open for full-time in-person learning, and build on the historic investments the Administration has already made to expand school testing, including providing states $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to support COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff, and students and $130 billion in American Rescue Plan funding that schools can use on COVID-19 testing. In addition to these resources, at the President’s direction, FEMA has been providing states, Tribes, and territories 100 percent federal reimbursement to support COVID-19 testing, including at schools. There was no federal support for testing in schools prior to the start of the Administration.

• Standing Up New Federal Surge Free Testing Sites: To help states and communities that need additional testing capacity as they battle Omicron, the Administration has rapidly stood up many new, federal free testing sites across the nation over the past several weeks. Already, there are 18 accessible sites operating in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Washington D.C.—with approximately 20 additional sites opening soon. These new federal sites have been effective in ensuring our hardest-hit and high-risk communities have equitable access to testing, with initial data showing that over three in four tests at the New York and New Jersey sites—sites that have been open the longest—have been administered to people of color.

These actions build on the significant steps the Administration has taken since Day One on testing to:

• Increase Overall Testing Supply in the U.S.: Starting last February, the Administration has used the Defense Production Act, industrial mobilization and advance purchase commitments to ramp up supply of testing, including at-home, rapid tests. This includes $3 billion in advance purchase commitments this Fall, which allowed domestic testing manufacturers to increase production, add factory lines, increase staffing, and move up manufacturing timelines. As a result, the U.S. went from 24 million at-home, rapid tests on the market in August, to 46 million in October, to 100 million in November, to over 300 million in December, to 375 million in January. This is on top of the work the Administration has done to increase capacity for lab-based COVID-19 testing; the U.S. is now conducting more lab-based tests per capita than many peer countries, including Germany, Canada, and Japan.

• Increase the Number of Tests Authorized in the U.S.: In March, to bring more at-home, rapid tests to market, the Administration worked to create a new, streamlined pathway for manufacturers to more quickly receive authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their tests. This accelerated pathway has been successfully used by at least six manufacturers this year. In addition, using resources from the American Rescue Plan, the Administration launched a new, innovative partnership between NIH and FDA last October to help manufacturers further accelerate authorization. The first two tests to use this pathway were authorized in December—weeks, if not months, ahead of schedule. These actions have paid off: When the President took office, there were zero at-home, rapid tests on the market. Today, there are nine on the market. This gives consumers more options and increases competition to lower prices.

• Increase the Number of Places to Get Tested in the U.S.: Since January 2021, the Administration has more than quadrupled the number of pharmacies participating in the federal program for in-store testing—from 2,500 to over 10,000. At the President’s direction, FEMA has provided states, Tribes, and territories with 100 percent reimbursement for a range of testing costs, including state-run testing sites, since January 2021. Overall, there are now over 20,000 federally-supported free testing sites nationwide, with more pharmacies joining the federal free testing program each week. In addition, the Administration has stood up new federal free surge testing sites in areas of need, with more opening each week.

• Increase Access to Free Testing in the U.S.: From the start, the Administration has taken significant action to reduce the cost of testing and increase access to free testing. Last February, the Administration required insurers to cover provider-ordered testing for free, including for asymptomatic individuals. The Administration also acted to ensure Medicaid programs cover all COVID-19 testing, and invested nearly $5 billion to cover testing costs for uninsured individuals—resulting in over 47 million tests covered. In addition to expanding the number of free testing sites to over 20,000 nationwide, the Administration delivers 2.5 million tests to long-term care facilities each week, and also launched a program to distribute 50 million free at-home tests to thousands of locations, including community health centers and rural health clinics that serve our hardest-hit and highest-risk communities. The announcements made today and earlier this week build on this work and will further ensure all Americans have equitable access to free testing. 

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