Biden administration resumes mailing free at-home COVID tests

As health officials prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases this fall and winter, the Biden administration announced this week that it will resume mailing free at-home testing kits to families nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on its website that the agency will spend $600 million with 12 U.S. manufacturers to produce about 200 million over-the-counter tests.

Starting Monday, Sept. 25, households can order four free tests from the federal government by going to the website

Why it matters: While the COVID-19 infection rate remains well below levels seen even a year ago, hospitals are reporting a rise in the number of people being admitted with COVID-like symptoms.

For the week ended Sept. 16, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported a seven-day average of 645 people admitted to hospitals with COVID symptoms. That was down from a seven-day average of 1,620 in early January.

Dawn O’Connell, an assistant secretary with the federal health agency, said in a press statement that by spending money with U.S. manufacturers, the government will reduce the nation’s “reliance on other countries and provide good jobs to hardworking Americans.”

Even as the federal government prepares to send out new COVID tests, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says families should not automatically discard leftover tests they already have, some of which may be used beyond the expiration dates printed on the containers. 

To help families determine whether their COVID tests are still good, the FDA has created a chart with extended expiration dates for some kits.

COVID in Charlotte 

For the two-week period ending on Sept. 7, Mecklenburg County health officials reported that 907 people went to hospital emergency departments with a “COVID-like illness.” Of those emergency department visits, 11% resulted in hospital admissions, according to county data.

Dr. Charles Bregier, a medical director at Novant Health, said despite the recent rise in cases, the health care system is not as overwhelmed as it was at the start of the pandemic.

“We’re not anticipating it to be anywhere severe as it was in the last couple of years,” Bregier told QCity Metro.

Dr. Bregier says the elderly, those unvaccinated and individuals with underlying illnesses are more likely to be hospitalized. 

While cases are up, Dr. Bregier says, thanks to multiple rounds of vaccines and immunity gained over the years, deaths are not rising significantly.

To protect yourself from COVID-19, Dr. Bregier recommends avoiding touching surfaces that are frequently touched by others, such as door knobs and cabinet knobs, using hand sanitizer often and staying home if you are sick. 

Most importantly, Dr. Bregier recommends getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Probably the single most important thing you can do though, is to get the updated COVID vaccine,” Dr. Bregier said.

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