The US government is suspending the program that provided free at-home covid tests for every American household on Friday, Sept. 2. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the reason behind the suspension is that Congress didn’t provide additional funds to replenish the national stockpile of tests.
The program was started in January 2022, following criticism of the prices and limited availability of self-tests. Each American household, irrespective of the size, qualifies for 16 at-home tests, delivered in three batches via the United Service Postal Service.
The first two batches comprised four tests each, and the third eight. Each order had to be placed separately. Overall, the program provided 600 million free tests, and discontinuing it risks drastically reducing access to at-home testing, especially since test makers have begun cutting back on supplies—partially due to the end of the government program.
The HHS site still recommends at-home tests for those experiencing covid symptoms, have come into contact with someone who tested positive, or are about to participate in a gathering—especially with people who are vulnerable or may not be up to date with their vaccinations and boosters.
Several outlets report that administration officials said the program would be promptly reinstated if Congress were to provide the necessary funding, but until then the remaining stockpile would be maintained to prepare for covid surges expected in coming months. The government has also discontinued free distribution of accessible tests for blind people or those with limited vision, due to shortage of supply.
Those who still haven’t ordered their tests can do so until Sept. 2 through the dedicated site. Households that haven’t ordered any batches might be able to order more than one, although the orders will need to be placed separately.
Rapid antigen and PCR testing will also continue to be free, at least with insurance, at thousands of pop-up testing locations, clinics, and labs around the country, although the administration will suspend free testing in schools, shelters, and correctional facilities. The White House has also signaled the intention to stop purchasing covid diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments at the end of the year, and move them to the commercial healthcare market.