President Biden in Oval Office

Biden announces plans to distribute 500M free rapid COVID-19 tests, new measures to fight COVID

The 500 million new COVID-19 tests will be made available next month and will reach Americans through the mail.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday in a speech to the nation a purchase of a half-billion at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and a plan to distribute them free to Americans who request them through a website. 

The 500 million new tests will be made available next month and will reach Americans through the mail. The administration is still working to determine how many tests each household may request, according to a CNN report.

Biden said also starting next month, private insurance will cover at-home testing so that people can get reimbursed for those orders. There are additional plans to provide tests to those who don't have insurance as well, he said.

"Starting this week, the federal government will set up emergency testing sites in areas that need additional testing capacity," which includes places where people have been waiting in long lines for tests, like New York City.

[Read more: CVS Health puts purchase cap on OTC COVID tests as demand surges]

The President said the government will continue to use the Defense Production Act to produce as many tests as quickly as possible. "The bottom line is it's a lot better than it was. We're taking even more steps to make it easier to get tested and to get tested for free," Biden said.

Biden also announced the administration is prepared to deploy 1,000 military service members to overburdened hospitals across the country in January and February. Those service members will include doctors, nurses, medics and other military medical personnel.

Biden reassured Americans that if they are vaccinated, they can still proceed with their holiday plans without fear of becoming seriously ill. He also implored those who have not yet received shots of the potential for severe illness or death in the coming months.

Biden warned the tens of millions of Americans who have so far declined to get shots that they run a high risk of becoming ill or hospitalized as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.

[Read more: FDA clears first OTC at-home COVID-19 test]

Biden also announced new vaccination sites and increased vaccine access, and will deploy hundreds of additional federal vaccinators who will help add "thousands of appointments each week." 

Though demand for vaccines has dwindled in recent months, the surge caused by the delta variant earlier this year did lead to increased demand for vaccinations in some of the hardest hit areas.

Biden also said that the number of Americans getting the COVID-19 vaccine "slowed this summer as vaccine resistance among some hardened." He blamed "dangerous misinformation" for the slowdown.

"Look, the unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices. But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media," Biden said.

He called on those pushing the information to "stop it now."

Biden also addressed FEMA efforts to expand hospital capacity and to pre-position medical supplies in places where stocks may run low in the coming weeks.

The speech, coming just days before Christmas, reflects Biden's renewed focus on the coronavirus pandemic as anxiety rises around the country at the potential for new restrictions and lockdowns.

While the White House plan announced Tuesday does not ship a test to every American, people would request the tests online instead. Those who utilize them will not have to report their results to public health agencies, officials said.

In his remarks, Biden acknowledged a likely rise in cases — including among vaccinated people — but emphasized the drastically different outcomes for those with shots and those unprotected by vaccines.