The White House said on Tuesday that Americans were now eligible for a third order of free, at-home coronavirus tests shipped through the Postal Service. The move doubled to 16 the total number of tests the program has made available to each household.
The tests, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and available on the federal website covidtests.gov, extend a pledge President Biden made during the brunt of the winter Omicron wave, when Americans faced scarce supplies of tests, empty shelves and long lines.
Under withering criticism for those shortages, Mr. Biden promised a billion at-home tests, and his administration secured commitments for hundreds of millions of them. The White House has said that half of them would be distributed through the Postal Service program. Over 70 million U.S. households — more than half the households in the country — have ordered tests that way so far, and roughly 350 million tests have been delivered.
The opportunity to order more tests comes at a still-perilous moment in the pandemic. The average number of new confirmed cases reported daily in the United States has tripled since the start of April, reaching more than 95,000 as of Monday, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also increasing, by 26 percent nationally over the last two weeks. New deaths from the virus are down to about 300 a day on average — partly a reflection, public health experts have said, of the protection against severe disease that many Americans have acquired from being vaccinated or from getting over a past coronavirus infection.
Rapid at-home tests, which typically deliver results within 15 minutes, have become more prevalent and accessible in pharmacies, making the total number of virus cases around the nation more difficult to track. People who test positive using at-home tests typically do not report the results to local health departments, so many new infections are going uncounted.
Still, with more transmissible forms of the virus spreading in recent months, the tests continue to be critical resources for many Americans, including those who can quickly diagnose an infection and receive antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid.
The number of courses of Paxlovid dispensed has increased more than 300 percent over the past month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said on Tuesday that the new round of at-home tests were an important resource to help people avoid spreading the virus.
“Going to a large gathering? Use rapid tests to not be the person who brings Covid to the party,” Dr. Jha wrote on Twitter. “Visiting a vulnerable relative? Use rapids tests to keep them safe.”
The White House has warned that without more funding from Congress, the administration may not be able to “sustain” domestic test manufacturing this year, potentially leading to companies winding down production and leaving the nation more blind to the virus if demand for the tests should surge and go unmet.
Manufacturers continue to be able to churn out the tests, according to Mara Aspinall, an expert in biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University who is on the board of directors of OraSure, which makes coronavirus tests. Manufacturers that have received federal authorization could make an estimated 422 million rapid at-home tests this month, and 402 million next month, down from a peak of 535 million in February, according to figures Ms. Aspinall collected.