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Health

The government is mailing free rapid COVID-19 tests again: How to order yours

Americans can now order free at-home COVID-19 tests by mail again as part of the White House’s new contingency plans to combat a winter surge in the United States.

Starting Dec. 15, every U.S. household is eligible to order four free rapid antigen COVID-⁠19 tests by mail to be shipped directly to their door, President Biden stated in a tweet on Thursday.

The tests can be ordered at www.COVIDTests.gov and orders will ship starting Dec. 19 through the U.S. Postal Service, according to the USPS website.

This is just one part of a broader winter preparedness plan announced by the White House on Thursday, which aims to provide more tests, medical supplies and boost vaccine uptake, NBC News reported. The announcement comes just days before millions of Americans will travel and gather indoors for the holidays — both situations that are high risk for COVID-19 transmission if no precautions, such as masking and distancing, are taken.

The new mail-order test program is a revival of an earlier government program that went defunct in September after Congress failed to pass additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of COVID-19 tests.

This latest round of free at-home tests comes on the heels of a spike in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations after the Thanksgiving holiday. According to an NBC News tally, average daily cases have increased by almost 45% in the last two weeks. COVID deaths have increased by 21.5% over the past two weeks.

The jump in COVID-19 cases coincides with a severe, early flu season and an unprecedented surge of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, among children, which have strained emergency departments and left pharmacy shelves bare, TODAY previously reported.

This so-called “tripledemic” of respiratory viruses (COVID-19, flu and RSV) has sparked concern among experts, who warn that things could get a lot worse as people increasingly gather indoors and travel for the holidays, taking fewer precautions than before.

Health officials in major cities like New York City and Los Angeles are already urging indoor masking, TODAY previously reported.

Testing for COVID-19, along with vaccination and other preventive measures, is an important tool to help reduce transmission and keep people safe — and now is a great time to stock up on rapid at-home tests ahead of the holidays.

Prior to the revival of the government testing program, you could get eight free rapid COVID-19 tests a month through your health insurance, TODAY.com previously reported. Some insurers allow customers not to pay anything when purchasing tests; others provide reimbursement. Contact your insurance provider to find out details.

People without insurance can get PCR and at-home rapid COVID tests for free or low cost at over 15,000 locations at community clinics and distribution sites, which are listed on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website.


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