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Federal government to relaunch free COVID tests program

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(WASHINGTON) — The federal government program used for the last two winters to send free COVID tests to Americans’ homes will get up-and-running once again in the coming days, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Wednesday.

Becerra made the announcement at a CVS drugstore in Washington, D.C., while getting his updated COVID shot and flu shot.

The site, CovidTests.Gov, will officially relaunch on Sept. 25 and each household will be able to order four free rapid tests, according to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response.

The site has had an on-and-off presence since the winter of 2022, when the omicron variant was ripping across the country.

At the time, President Joe Biden pledged to give out 1 billion free rapid tests.

But the site was temporarily shut down that fall as a political fight dragged on over COVID funding. Officials said they had to conserve tests in case they didn’t get more money — which they didn’t.

Still, the site relaunched again in December as cases began to climb again, then shut down this past June.

The government will now relaunch CovidTests.Gov again in time for a surge in cases this winter.

“We want them to be able to use those tests during this viral season — fall, winter, respiratory viral season,” Becerra said.

The tests will come from a $600 million investment across 12 different domestic test manufacturers, which will yield around 200 million tests to boost the federal stockpile. Tests ordered from CovidTests.Gov will be pulled from that stockpile.

The funding for the free tests will come from money that was left over from a past supplemental COVID bill. Though the debt ceiling deal reached over the summer between President Joe Biden and Republicans did claw back about $30 billion in unspent COVID relief funds, officials said there was still enough left over to put toward replenishing the testing stockpile this fall.

Officials said they didn’t have an estimate yet for how many they expect Americans to order the free tests given the shrinking demand for COVID precautionary measures. Roughly 755 million tests have been distributed through the website over the last two years.

But if there is high demand in the future, the $600 million investment toward test manufacturers will also serve to warm up the supply lines and get the production process underway ahead of a crunch in resources, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Dawn O’Connell said.

“Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans,” O’Connell said.

“ASPR’s investments in these domestic manufacturers will increase availability of tests in the future,” she said in a statement.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing to climb in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the week ending Sept. 9, data showed that hospitalizations increased 7.7% from 19,068 to 20,538 weekly hospitalizations — an estimate that’s likely an undercount, due to less available data without the public health emergency still in place.

ABC News’ Mary Kekatos contributed to this report.

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