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Government to suspend program that distributed hundreds of millions of free, at-home COVID-19 tests

Hundreds of millions of free rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests have been distributed through the mail. The program will be suspended at the end of this week.JIM WILSON/NYT

Need to stock up on COVID-19 tests? You have until Friday to order rapid, at-home tests from the federal government at no cost.

Officials are planning to suspend the program, which has mailed out hundreds of millions of tests, citing funding issues.

“Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, September 2, because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests,” reads a note that was added in recent days to the free testing program’s website.

A senior Biden administration official said in an e-mailed statement, “We are suspending new orders through this program to preserve our limited remaining supply, so that we can ensure we have a limited supply of tests available in the fall, when we might face a new rise in infections and more acute need.”

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“If Congress provides funding, we will expeditiously resume distribution of free tests through COVIDTests.gov. Until then, we believe reserving the remaining tests for distribution later this year is the best course,” the official said.

The program began in January when the country was in the grip of the initial Omicron surge. The official said that over 600 million tests had been distributed, with every household given the opportunity to place three orders for a total of 16 tests.

“I do worry that this is going to make it harder for those who need it most to be able to access testing at home,” Matthew Fox, professor of epidemiology and global health at the Boston University School of Public Health, said by e-mail. “Testing was never on its own sufficient to control spread, but it is one tool.”

Dr. Megan Ranney, academic dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on Twitter it was a “horrible irony” that “those who are least able to afford tests out-of-pocket are also those at highest risk of getting infected” because of their jobs or living situations.

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She said in an e-mail: “It’s disappointing to me because I think it’s indicative of a larger pulling-back of our country from a commitment to working as a community to keep each other healthy. Testing is but one part of COVID prevention — but this is a canary in the coal mine for our ability to invest in prevention, in general.”

Dr. Taison Bell, a critical care physician at UVA Health in Charlottesville, Va., said in a tweet “this is quite exactly the wrong thing to do going into fall/winter.”

Dr. Michael Z. Lin, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford, said he was “not sure why our governments and companies insist on removing protections just as we need them, choosing ultimately expensive wishful thinking over cheap precautions.”



Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.