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The federal government is offering another round of free COVID tests

The federal government is sending out a third round of free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests through the U.S. Postal Service.
The federal government is sending out a third round of free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests through the U.S. Postal Service.

Updated May 16, 2022 at 10:14 PM ET

Americans can once again order free COVID-19 tests from the federal government by visiting COVIDtests.gov. In this round, the U.S. Postal Service will deliver eight free rapid antigen tests to any household in the U.S. that wants them, according to the website. That brings to sixteen the total tests offered per household so far.

The site suddenly appeared active Monday to offer the third round of free tests without a prior announcement. The White House is expected to make it official Tuesday, but the site was fully functional and taking orders ahead of time.

This comes as COVID cases in the U.S. have risen more than 60% in the past two weeks and hospitalizations have begun to climb again as well. "As the highly transmissible subvariants of Omicron drive a rise in cases in parts of the country, free and accessible tests will help slow the spread of the virus," explains a White House fact sheet.

The administration has been criticized for not giving away as many tests as households might need if someone comes down with COVID. But officials previously said they were holding back to see how much demand there was.

Four months into the program, the White House says 350 million tests have been given away to 70 million households, more than half of the households in the U.S. In the midst of the first Omicron wave, with cases spiking and tests hard to find, the Biden administration announced it would order one billion tests to distribute free to Americans.

By the time the free government tests started showing up in mailboxes, the acute shortage had passed as cases fell and pharmacy shelves were restocked with at-home rapid antigen tests.

The first round of tests sent out in January and February provided four per household, and the second round in March provided four more tests per household, for a total of eight. This latest round doubles that, getting more tests out more quickly.

The purchase of a billion COVID tests was funded by the American Rescue Plan and served dual purposes, getting free tests into American homes and creating market stability for a domestic testing industry that struggled with the boom and bust cycle of COVID waves. In 2021, manufacturers slowed production when cases fell, only for the country to be caught flat footed when case numbers rose again.

White House officials have been pleading with Congress to pass another round of COVID prevention and treatment funds, with little progress. Part of that funding would go to buying additional tests to keep the nation's supply up even if consumer demand wanes.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic, breaking news about global vaccine sharing and plans for distribution of vaccines to children under 12.