WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Monday his administration has more work to do on Covid-19 testing as patients reported having to wait days for results and at-home tests flew off store shelves in areas where cases are surging from the omicron variant.
“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do and we’re doing it,” he said during a video conference with governors.
Testing centers — including those in New York and Washington, D.C., where cases have been spiking — said patients were having to wait in long lines to get tested and then as many as five to seven days for results. A number of retailers said at-home rapid tests were out of stock with supply extremely limited.
Biden said Monday he will continue using the Defense Production Act to produce as many tests as possible, and starting in two weeks private insurance will reimburse people for the cost of purchasing an at-home test.
The administration has been pushing to increase the availability of at-home tests. Biden announced last week that the federal government would be making 500 million free at-home tests available, with the first tests ready to be sent out in January. But administration officials haven’t said how long it would take for them to reach that total number. The United States currently has a supply of roughly 200 million tests a month.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told Biden on the call that one of the biggest issues his state is facing is a shortage of rapid tests.
“We also as governors are getting pressure to do more and the need is great to do more in terms of the rapid test and the availability of it,” he said.
The ability for Americans to get quick test results will not only help slow the spread of the virus, but will also be increasingly crucial for patients to get access to new antiviral treatments from Merck and Pfizer that have shown effectiveness at reducing hospitalizations and deaths.
Testing demand is expected to continue to increase through at least April as millions of Americans are projected to get infected with the rapidly spreading omicron variant, according to estimates by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Biden said Monday that his administration has worked with Google to help people find a testing location site. To address long lines at testing sites, the administration is setting up additional free testing sites, including six new sites in New York City over the last week.
He told governors on the video call Monday that the country was prepared to respond to the surge in cases from the omicron variant and reiterated that there wasn’t a need to panic. He said the federal government had stockpiled and prepositioned millions of gowns, gloves, masks and ventilators to provide quickly to hospitals when needed. He also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending hundreds of ambulances and emergency medical services crews to states to help transport patients. The military was also mobilizing 1,000 doctors, nurses and medics to help staff hospitals, he said.
Federal emergency response teams have already been sent to Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Mexico, Biden said.
“The bottom line is we want to assure the American people that we're prepared,” he told the governors. “We know what it takes.”