The Biden administration is providing US$600 million in funding to produce more at-home COVID-19 tests and is restarting its online ordering service that allows American households to access the tests as signs emerge that cases are on the rise.
The Department of Health and Human Services says orders can be placed at COVIDTests.gov starting Sept. 25, and that no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service. Americans will be able to order up to four free tests per household under the program.
The funding will go to 12 manufacturers who will produce 200 million over-the-counter tests to replenish federal stockpiles for government use, as well as for producing enough tests to meet public demand through the online ordering system, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.
Federal officials said that will help guard against supply chain issues that sparked some shortages of at-home COVID tests made overseas during past surges in coronavirus cases.
As of Sept. 9, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were up nearly eight per cent over the previous week. While the increase is lower than previous surges, cases are also on the rise in Europe and Canada, according to epidemiological data.
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Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. HHS, said the COVID-19 test ordering website will remain functional to receive orders through the holidays and “we reserve the right to keep it open even longer if we’re starting to see an increase in cases.”
The tests are designed to detect COVID variants currently circulating, and are intended for use by the end of the year. But they will include instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates, the department said.
In contrast to the U.S. program, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has been distributing at-home tests directly to provinces and territories, who have then supplied them to pharmacies for residents to order for free.
A spokesperson for PHAC told Global News on Thursday that Canada has over 90 million at-home COVID-19 tests in its federal stockpile. Of those, approximately 700,000 tests are set to expire by the end of this year.
“The Government of Canada continues to work with provinces and territories to ensure those tests are available to Canadians free of charge,” the agency said in a statement.
The statement added the federal government holds bilateral monthly meetings with each province and territory to “support any distribution requests.”
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Ottawa has ordered more than 811 million rapid tests since the beginning of the pandemic with a price tag of about $5 billion. About 680 million of those went to provinces and territories.
Nearly 500 million of those tests were then distributed to pharmacies for public use, as well as businesses, community groups and government offices, leaving about 187 million in provincial and territorial inventories as of July, according to Procurement Canada.
The U.S. initiative follows four previous rounds where federal officials and the U.S. Postal Service provided more than 755 million tests for free to homes nationwide.
It is also meant to complement ongoing federal efforts to provide free COVID tests to long-term care facilities, schools, low-income senior housing, uninsured individuals and underserved communities which are already distributing 4 million per week and have distributed 500 million tests to date, the department said.
O’Connell said manufacturers receiving the new funding would be able to spread out the 200 million tests they will produce for federal use over 18 months.
The U.S. and Canada have approved updated COVID-19 vaccines for innoculations this fall and winter that protect against new variants of the virus.
— with files from the Associated Press and the Canadian Press
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