Congressional Democrats press Biden to expand rapid COVID-19 testing

People wait in line to get tested for COVID-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square
Associated Press/Yuki Iwamura

Nearly 50 House and Senate Democrats are calling on the Biden administration to substantially increase the nation’s supply of rapid COVID-19 tests.

In a letter led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), along with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the lawmakers acknowledged efforts already underway, like acquiring 500 million additional tests and setting up federal testing sites, but said the administration needs to do more to boost supplies.

“But as the Omicron variant spreads and we enter an ominous and unprecedented next phase of this pandemic, it is critical that we ensure these efforts meet the severity of the moment,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The availability of low-cost rapid tests has been a major point of criticism for President Biden.  As the omicron variant rapidly spreads across the country and infections spike, tests have become a difficult commodity for many Americans to find online or in retail stores. When they are available, the costs for multiple test kits can be too much for some families. 

The lawmakers had a list of specific policy asks, including manufacturing enough tests that every American could take at least one rapid test per week, and ensuring that Americans without internet access can order free COVID-19 rapid tests delivered to their homes. 

They also said the administration should work to make free rapid tests widely available in places like pharmacies, grocery stores and post offices

“Ensuring widespread access to free COVID-19 rapid testing is among the most effective public health tools that the federal government has at its disposal, but the current supply shortage is preventing effective utilization of this commonsense mitigation strategy,” the lawmakers wrote. 

A White House official said the administration is in “full agreement” with the lawmakers that “rapid tests are a critical tool in mitigating the impact and spread of COVID-19, which is why we’ve taken action on all of the mentioned areas.”

The official said the White House has used the Defense Production Act in the past to drive production, “and will do so again when it can accelerate production and delivery of these tests.” 

The official also pointed to the 500 million rapid tests the administration is purchasing, an upcoming policy that will tell insurance companies to cover the costs of tests, as well as efforts to send 50 million rapid tests to health centers and rural clinics. 

The administration is also planning to set up a phone line for its delivery of at-home tests for those who can’t order them online.

Tags Adam Schiff Bernie Sanders Coronavirus COVID-19 testing Joe Biden rapid test kits Ro Khanna
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