Biden plans to distribute 500 million at-home COVID-19 test kits. Here are the states and cities already providing free tests

President Joe Biden is going to make 500 million at-home COVID-19 test kits available for free starting next month, in a move to try helping the country get through another pandemic winter as cases rage from the omicron variant.

People will be able to order the test kits online and have kits will be mailed to them. This is on top of the Biden administration’s plans to have health insurers reimburse policy holders for at-home tests they buy themselves.

Despite the canceled events, long testing lines, and anxious national mood, Biden said Tuesday that the current moment was fundamentally unlike the pandemic’s earliest days in March 2020. “The bottom line is, it’s a lot better than it was, but we are taking even more steps to make it easier to get tests and get tested for free,” he said.

See also: To detect omicron, take an at-home COVID-19 test right before a holiday gathering, experts say

The administration is still working on the specifics about the website and test-kit distribution, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. The 500 million is in addition to the 50 million test kits pledged to health clinics, she said.

The federal plan to provide free at-home tests also will be in addition to the free at-home test kits that states and cities are already distributing. Those jurisdictions include New York City, New Jersey, Massachusetts and highly populated California counties. 

The new year is less than two weeks away, but that might seem like an eternity for people who are standing in line for tests at testing sites and have holiday plans they’d like to stick with. Scarcity has been observed in numerous locales in over-the-counter test kits, with demand increasing of late.  

Ahead of Biden’s announcement, New York Attorney General Letitia James put out an alert on COVID-19 test-kit price gouging. Though some kits can cost between $14 and $25 per package, her office has allegedly been apprised of kit prices running as high as $70.

There were more than 139 million test kits sold in the last full week of November, up from 95.3 million sales at the same point in October, according to market researcher NielsenIQ.

It’s by no means assured the state and local governments providing kits can get one to every person who wants one, or more, but it’s good to know options are out there.  

Here are some examples of cities and states handing out free at-home COVID-19 test kits:

New York City is distributing 500,000 test kits and 1 million KN95 masks through community-based organizations. The organizations can apply for Abbott
BinaxNOW Self-Testing kits in monthly allotments of 50, 100 or another amount, according to an announcement.

New Jersey is offering saliva test kits to residents. In order to obtain results, the test user has to be observed on a Zoom
call with a “collection supervisor” from Vault Medical Services, the  test provider that’s working with the state on the effort. Test supervision operations run seven days a week. Once the collection is observed, the person mails the sample.

As of Tuesday, more than 100,000 have been ordered since the program’s Dec. 13 announcement, a New Jersey Department of Health spokeswoman said. Test results come 24 to 48 hours after the specimen arrives at the lab and a second test cannot be ordered  until the results arrive from the pending test, she said.   

Massachusetts has 2.1 million test kits from iHealth Labs that are earmarked for 102 towns with high numbers of families living below the poverty level. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu posted on Twitter
where city residents will be able to find free test kits. Bay State cities including Lawrence and Worcester have been gearing up their own test-kit distributions, according to NBC Boston.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that 1.9 million tests have been distributed to towns and cities, which will distribute them.

New Hampshire was the first state to send free home test kits to residents who requested them, while supplies lasted, according to an announcement in late November.  A first round of approximately 400,000 kits with 800,000 tests came and went in less than 24 hours, according to WMUR. Earlier this month, Gov. Chris Sununu said the state was working on distributing another batch of test kits.

The state was sending out the tests via a platform for free test-kit distribution that a number of counties in Washington state are using. Those counties include Walla Walla County, Yakima County and Spokane County. As of Tuesday, public health authorities in those counties still had free test kits to mail out, according to the website.

Orange County and Los Angeles County in California are also offering at-home test kits. Orange County offers saliva- and nasal-swab kits, saying orders will take one to two days to fulfill. In Los Angeles, the program is intended for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or think they may have been exposed. It applies to people who are above age 65 or unable to leave their home. The kit should be used immediately and shipped back within three to five days of receipt.

Certain cities in Arizona have also been distributing free test kits, with demand quickly outstripping supply. City officials in Mesa distributed 1,200 kits, which were reportedly gone in just a few hours. The city of Tempe was scheduled to distribute kits on Tuesday. The kits were all distributed, the city said Tuesday.

“We will not have any more available until early next week. We’re grateful to everyone who came to get a test kit to help keep our community safe over the holidays,” the city said on its Twitter account.

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