Biden administration offers U.S. households more free COVID-19 tests for winter

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - U.S. households can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests from the government website COVIDTests.gov beginning on Thursday as part of the Biden administration's efforts to tackle coronavirus infections over the winter.

The White House said it would use existing funding to pay for the tests since it has been unsuccessful so far in getting Congress to pass a bill to put more money toward the U.S. COVID-19 response.

The free tests program was paused because officials wanted to make sure there were enough tests available for a likely spike in COVID cases in the winter, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said.

"We knew there will be a moment later in the year when COVID cases would rise again. So we preserved the tests so we could have them on hand for exactly this moment," White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said on Thursday. "And if we don't get more funding, we won't be able to send more tests out to the American people."

COVID-19 cases have risen significantly over the past couple of weeks, and the United States is experiencing probably the worst flu season in a decade, Jha said. The good news, he added, was evidence that respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases have been coming down.

Earlier in the fall, hospitals had been filling up with children sickened by RSV, making for a respiratory disease triple threat.

The administration would start shipping orders of the latest round of free tests during the week of Dec. 19.

Free tests will also be made available at as many as 500 major food banks, the White House said.

The Biden administration came under criticism a year ago for not ensuring enough tests were available in the midst of a record surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The administration later procured hundreds of millions of tests to make available to the public at no cost.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Berkrot

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