U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the Medals of Honor ceremony in Washington, December 16, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
President Joe Biden said that he wishes he had ordered 500 million free, at-home Covid tests two months ago.
Biden, in an interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday evening, spoke about his administration’s plans to send the tests to Americans as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads. Studies say omicron is apparently less severe than other variants, but officials are worried about a surge in hospitalizations and deaths for mainly unvaccinated people.
“I’ve ordered half a billion of the … test kits that are going to be available to be sent to every home in America if anybody wants them,” he told David Muir. “But the answer is, yeah, I wish I had thought about ordering a half a billion [tests] two months ago, before Covid hit here,” he added.
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced their plans to order 500 million at-home test kits. Officials expect people to be able to get their hands on the free tests as early as January. Contracts to purchase the tests haven’t been finalized, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
“We just announced this two days ago,” she told reporters during a briefing.
Other than the expectation that the tests will be available next month, details are scant from the White House on this initiative, including about how Americans will get their hands on these free at-home tests.
Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the White House will roll out a website where people can order tests to their homes.
“People will go to a website — which, again, we will put out there in January when the information is available — and they will be able to request free tests,” she said.
Rapid at-home Covid-19 test kits are ready to be distributed at the Chelsea Community Connections in Chelsea, Massachusetts on December 17, 2021.
Joseph Precious | AFP | Getty Images
It’s not clear how the tests will be shipped to homes or whether there will be limits on how many tests each household can order. Psaki said Wednesday the administration expects the first batch of tests to ship in January, with others going out in the weeks to follow.
Some experts, including White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, say the omicron variant’s spread could peak soon, leading to questions about how handy the at-home tests will be by the time they arrive.
“It’s going to be a matter of a couple of weeks that we then start to see just as dramatic a decline,” Fauci said on Good Morning America on Tuesday. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Fauci added, “When you have something that goes up this quickly, often you see it come right back down. Because, what will happen is that either almost everyone is either going to get infected, particularly the unvaccinated, or be vaccinated.”
For now, people across the country are scrambling to get tested before the holidays to ensure they can safely congregate with their families and loved ones. This has led to hours-long wait times and long lines at testing centers in major cities.
The U.S. was conducting nearly 1.6 million daily tests as of Wednesday, according to a seven-day average of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, about flat over the past week. That figure is likely an undercount due to the prevalence of at-home test kits, which have otherwise become hard to find in pockets of the nation.
The data shows average daily tests peaked at nearly 1.9 million on Jan. 15 of this year, around the same time daily U.S. cases peaked. That was also before at-home testing was widely available.
CVS Health and Walgreens are limiting the amount of at-home tests each shopper can buy as demand has shot up in recent days and weeks.
Even Amazon has limited sales of at-home tests online to keep supply up. For their own brand of at-home tests, the vendor is limiting purchases to ten units per shopper.
Addressing the shortages and long lines, Biden told ABC News, “No, I don’t think it’s a failure.”