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White House announces steps to counter winter wave of Covid infections

The administration’s plan includes offering more free at-home tests, pushing to vaccinate more nursing home residents and readying supplies that can be sent to states.

WASHINGTON — White House officials on Thursday announced steps to provide more Covid testing, vaccinations and supplies as case numbers tick up in another winter wave of coronavirus infections.

The Biden administration says it will offer more free at-home Covid tests, boost efforts to vaccinate nursing home residents and prepare supplies that can be sent to states in need.

Starting Thursday, the White House will make another round of free Covid tests available by allowing households to order up to four at-home tests from Covidtest.gov. After it failed to get additional funding from Congress to buy new tests, the White House will use money from the Covid stimulus bill passed last year to buy the additional tests, a senior administration official told reporters.

While public health officials don’t expect a Covid surge as big as last winter’s, cases and deaths have increased since Thanksgiving. The administration official said the White House expects infections to continue to rise as more people gather indoors for holiday celebrations in the coming weeks.

“We’re seeing Covid cases rising in parts of the country following Thanksgiving. And while Covid isn’t the disruptive force it once was, we know that the virus will circulate more quickly and easily as folks gather indoors for the winter holiday season,” the official said on a call with reporters.

Senior facility gets COVID-19 vaccine
A CVS pharmacist delivers the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a resident at the Emerald Court senior living community in Anaheim, Calif., on January 8, 2021.Paul Bersebach / MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Hospitals are already struggling to deal with a surge of RSV and flu infections that have strained intensive care units. About 78,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu, and at least 4,500 have died, since the start of flu season in October, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House will also make another push to encourage more high-risk people to get vaccinated, starting with nursing home staff members and residents, and expand the number of people allowed to administer shots to nursing home residents.

Even though nursing home residents were widely vaccinated when the shots first rolled out, many have failed to get their recommended boosters. Just 45% of nursing home residents and 22% of staff members are up to date on their vaccinations, according to an analysis last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The administration will also send more free at-home tests to food banks and low-income housing programs for seniors while working to increase distribution of the remaining 130 million N-95 masks that the White House released this year from the Strategic National Stockpile.

But the federal government is also looking for states to play a role, urging governors to set up mobile and pop-up vaccination and testing sites, along with more test-to-treat sites where patients can be tested and get Pfizer’s Paxlovid treatment if they are infected. The senior administration official said the administration has distributed 6 million courses of Paxlovid to local communities and indicated that it is confident there will be enough supply to meet demand.

“We have the tools, infrastructure and know-how we need to effectively manage this time to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, minimize disruptions and respond to challenges,” the official said. “Everyone just has to do their part.”