Biden: Government to give out 1 billion free COVID-19 tests

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the government is working to obtain 500 million more COVID-19 tests to give out to Americans, with plans to publish a website next week where people will be able to order the tests for free.

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The announcement brings the total number of tests to be distributed to Americans for free to 1 billion.

“We’re on track to roll out a website next week where you can order free tests shipped to your home,” Biden said at a news conference Thursday. “I’m directing my team to procure an additional … 500 million more tests to distribute for free. … A billion tests in total, to meet future demand.”

>> Related: Coronavirus: Prices of COVID-19 test kits rising at Walmart, Kroger, report says

Officials previously announced that the government planned to distribute 500 million free COVID-19 tests to Americans amid a surge in demand fueled by the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus. In recent weeks, rapid tests have been quickly snatched off store shelves nationwide as prices simultaneously rose amid spiking demand and supply constraints.

“We’ll continue to work with the retailers and … online retailers to increase availability,” Biden said Thursday, adding that officials are also launching more FEMA testing sites to provide people with free in-person tests.

>> Related: Insurers directed by Biden to cover 8 at-home COVID-19 tests per person per month

Beginning Saturday, private insurers will be required to reimburse Americans for the cost of eight at-home COVID-19 tests per household member each month.

“For those without insurance, we have over 20,000 free testing sites all around the country,” Biden said Thursday. “You can find the nearest testing sites near you by Googling ‘COVID test near me.’”

>> Related: COVID-19 tests are free starting Saturday; how to get one; how to get it delivered

The president said that next week, officials will also reveal a plan to provide “high-quality masks … to the American people for free.” On Wednesday, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said the White House was considering sending N95 or KN95 masks to all Americans.

The announcements come as forecasts show an expected rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths nationwide in the coming weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Wednesday, the agency said that forecasts predict that as many as 48,000 new COVID-19-related hospitalizations “will likely be reported” on Feb. 4, while 31,000 more deaths are expected by Feb. 5.

>> Related: N95 masks will be sent to Americans for free; plan to be announced next week

Officials have confirmed more than 63.2 million COVID-19 infections and reported more than 844,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Over 317.4 million COVID-19 cases have been reported globally, resulting in 5.5 million deaths, according to the university.