To keep Americans protected as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 rages across the country and the world, the Biden administration will begin mailing free COVID test kits.
A White House official told NBC News that the White House is preparing to ship 500 million COVID test kits and is setting up a website for Americans to submit their requests. The official did not say how many tests can be requested or how long it will take to receive the tests.
Additionally, the federal government will set up new testing centers across the country to add to the 20,000 sites already functioning. The first one will open in New York City later this week.
President Joe Biden is also slated to address the nation Tuesday night to outline the administration’s next steps to combat the pandemic over the winter. Biden will also offer a grim outlook for the 40 million Americans that are still unvaccinated and are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
Cities across the U.S. have issues with testing as last weekend saw hourslong testing lines in New York, Boston, Maryland, and Washington D.C.
In addition to struggling to get tested, the U.S. is also struggling to make tests more affordable. In some countries, a test can be purchased for as little as a dollar, meanwhile in the U.S. a pack of two tests can cost up to $20, if not more.
Biden previously directed insurance companies to cover the costs of at-home tests, but that still carried upfront costs for patients who had to file claims and wait to be reimbursed.
The president is also directing 1,000 military members to help hospitals across the country deal with staffing shortages. Doctors, nurses, and medics will be deployed next month and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will set up overflow operations at hospitals that are at capacity.
The Omicron variant is more contagious than previous variants and, in just two weeks, became the dominant variant in the U.S. and other countries. An NBC News analysis showed eight states set hospitalization records on Sunday alone.
Much is still unknown about the Omicron variant, including how lethal it is. Still, even if a smaller percentage of Americans become severely ill, the highly contagious nature of the variant could mean more than previous variants, which have killed more than 800,000 Americans since the beginning of 2020.