‘We have more work to do’: Biden promises action after demand for Covid test spikes

Biden administration plans to distribute 500,000 free at-home Covid-19 test kits to Americans starting next month

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Monday 27 December 2021 19:02
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President Joe Biden on Monday promised quick action to address the soaring demand for at-home Covid-19 test kits brought on by Americans looking to stay safe from the Omicron variant during holiday gatherings.

Last week Mr Biden announced that the US government would purchase and distribute 500,000 free at-home test kits to Americans who request them by way of a website to be unveiled next month.

The move to distribute free tests came days after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sparked outrage among public health experts after seeming to mock the idea of having the government make such kits widely available to every household.

Speaking at the outset of a White House Covid-19 response team teleconference with the nation’s governors, Mr Biden said the long lines at test sites and empty shelves encountered by Americans scrambling to find tests ahead of Christmas festivities made clear the need for action.

“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” Mr Biden said.

The president noted that the US did not have a single home test kit on the market when he assumed office in January, and what tests were then available required appointments at pharmacies or testing clinics.

He then touted his administration’s efforts at approving the five at-home kits now being sold in the US and quadrupling the number of pharmacies offering tests while establishing more than 200,000 free testing locations across the country, many of which allow appointments to be booked online in advance.

“We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November, and almost 200 million in December. But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough,” he said. “If we’d known, we would have gone harder, quicker, if we could have.”

But Mr Biden said the steps his administration has taken to increase the number of authorised at-home tests have enabled the purchase of the 500,000 tests that will soon be sent to Americans for free.

“We're going to continue to use the Defence Production Act to produce as many tests as possible, and starting in two weeks, private insurance will reimburse you for the cost of at-home tests. We're providing access to free tests for folks who don't have insurance. But we have to do more. We have to do better. And we will,” he said.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, the current chairman of the National Governors Association, said he and his colleagues are “getting pressure to do more” on making rapid Covid tests more available when he opened the meeting prior to Mr Biden’s remarks.

He offered a “word of concern or encouragement” to Mr Biden and his team, cautioning them to not allow any federal effort to find solutions to the testing shortage to “get in the way of state solutions”.

“The production of 500 million rapid test that will be distributed by the federal government is great, but obviously that dries up the supply chain for the solutions that we might offer as governors,” he said.

But Mr Hutchinson, a Republican, also praised Mr Biden for his efforts to depoliticise the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lauded the efforts of the president’s Covid-19 task force at being “responsive” to requests for supplies such as monoclonal antibody treatments.

“I want to say personally, I've enjoyed working with you when I was in Congress as head of the DEA, and I appreciate your leadership. And thank you so much for giving us the time today to hear from us but, also so that we could hear from you personally about the challenge that we face,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the teleconference had concluded, Mr Biden said the governors had told him that they had “gotten all that they need,” but wanted to know what his advisors think is in store for the future.

“They just want to know what we think is gonna happen from here. They asked Dr Fauci some more questions about everything from whether or not he thought he was going to have to move to test at home — I mean, air flights and that kind of thing — but ... there were no complaints, a lot of cooperation,” he said.

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