Last call, folks: The federal government is ending its free at-home COVID-19 test program this week.
U.S. households have until Friday, Sept. 2 to claim their self-administered rapid antigen tests (up to three rounds per residential address, or 16 tests total) at special.usps.com/testkits. Consumers can also place orders over the phone by calling 1-800-232-0233; that hotline is open from 8 a.m. to midnight ET seven days a week.
“Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, September 2 because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests,” reads a banner on COVID.gov, which is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
In interviews with CNN, NBC News, and USA Today, Biden administration officials also cited a need to have enough tests on hand in case there’s a fall wave of infections.
Once the program wraps, eligible consumers will still be able to get up to eight free or reimbursed tests monthly through their private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. Low- or no-cost rapid and PCR tests are available for those without coverage at select health care centers and pharmacies nationwide.
Where to get COVID-19 tests:
For those who will wind up needing to buy tests themselves, the following top-rated kits were in stock on Amazon at the time of publication (listed in ascending order of price per single test):
News of the free test program ending comes just after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) slackened its COVID-19 guidance, dropping recommendations to quarantine after exposure (regardless of vaccination status) and screen those without symptoms. Never mind the fact that the pandemic is still very much ongoing: The U.S. was reporting a daily average of 82,475 new cases, 5,255 new hospital admissions, and 387 deaths in late Aug. 2022, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.
It also comes just under two weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration has plans in motion to offload the cost of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments onto consumers and their insurance companies, further compounding the burden of the pandemic on individuals.
The government first launched the free test program in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service this January during the peak of the Omicron variant. Initially limited to one round of four tests per address, it later expanded to a second round of four tests in March and a third round of eight in May following further spikes in cases. Approximately 350 million tests had been distributed to household across the country at that point, according to a White House press release.
Biden administration officials began hinting at the program’s potential demise around the time of the second batch as it called for $22.5 billion in additional emergency COVID-19 relief for treatments, testing, and vaccines, cautioning against the “severe consequences” of inaction before future surges. House Democrats wound up ditching a $15.6 billion pandemic aid package in an effort to pass this year’s $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill.
An unnamed White House official told CNN that the free test deliveries could “expeditiously resume” if Congress decided to provide funding. “Until then, we believe reserving the remaining tests for distribution later this year is the best course.”