USPS Offers Free COVID-19 Tests Again, Just in Time for Winter Holidays

After a pause since September, the free testing kits are back.

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click to enlarge USPS soon will deliver at-home COVID-19 tests once again. - Photo: Annie Spratt, Unsplash
Photo: Annie Spratt, Unsplash
USPS soon will deliver at-home COVID-19 tests once again.

Cincinnatians looking for free at-home COVID-19 testing kits from the federal government are in luck – the feds have resurrected the program after a pause of several months.

On Sept. 2, the U.S. government stopped filling orders for the free COVID-19 tests that had been available to all residents since January. Residents had been able to request several tests at a time during the year, frequently at a few tests per round. The feds launched rounds in January, March and May, with tests delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

In September, a note on COVID.gov read, "Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, September 2 because Congress hasn't provided additional funding to replenish the nation's stockpile of tests."

But U.S. President Joe Biden recently said that the White House has shifted budget items around to fund the program once again.

As of Dec. 16, the website for the free COVID-19 tests works. CityBeat staff members tested the government site, taking just a few minutes to input a name and address to request another round of the COVID testing kits. The process was smooth and quick, and the website indicated that orders would start being delivered during the week of Dec. 19.

Why the U.S. government provided free COVID-19 tests

When the government initially launched the free program at the beginning of the year, the nation's COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths were spiking once again due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus. At the time, community testing sites were crowded or closed and at-home kits largely were gone from pharmacy shelves. Ohio and Kentucky particularly had severe spikes in COVID-19 cases.

In January, Dr. Richard Lofgren, UC Health's former president and CEO, said of Omicron, "It truly doubles the number of cases every two to three days. It's a math problem. And though a smaller number of people require hospitalization, a small number on a large number is a very large number of individuals. We are in the process of overwhelming our healthcare systems."

Elected officials also were dealing with COVID, with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife Fran both picking up the virus and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's son getting saddled with it. A number of Greater Cincinnati schools also closed earlier this year due to many educators, staff and students being out sick after spending the winter holidays indoors with others (schools largely are not requiring masks this year, despite scientific evidence that masking significantly slows the spread of COVID-19).

COVID-19 numbers climbed again this summer due to fewer safety protocols and more gatherings. Experts have said that both the Omicron and Delta variants largely were to blame.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. In some circumstances, they may contaminate surfaces they touch."

"Anyone infected with COVID-19 can spread it, even if they do NOT have symptoms," the CDC added.

COVID-19 is rising locally again

Greater Cincinnati is seeing an increase in COVID-19 spread after a short lull. With more people gathering in large numbers indoors – particularly for the holidays – the coronavirus has a greater chance of spreading.

"We continue to see rising numbers of COVID cases and hospitalizations. Nearly all regional counties are above 100 new cases per 100,000 per week," the Health Collaborative said in its Dec. 8 report. "Hospitals remain busy with 99% of staffable medical-surgical and 97% of staffable ICU beds in use. Roughly 9% of all tests are coming back positive, up from 6% last week."

COVID-19 cases also sharply rose during previous winters.

Vaccinations against COVID – including boosters – largely have stalled. According to Dec. 15 figures from the Ohio Department of Health, 64.53% of Ohioans have started a vaccination series, and just 59.82% have completed a series (the two-dose Pfizer, Moderna or Novavax series or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

In Hamilton County, 68.25% of residents have started vaccination, while 63.35% have completed it, according to ODH. That's a small increase from the end of August, when 66% of the regional population had begun a vaccine series .

All adults 18 and older are eligible for the four vaccines the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved or given emergency authorization. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also are approved for ages six months and older. Booster doses – updated versions of the approved vaccines that help prevent COVID-19 from the latest mutations of the coronavirus – also are available for most age groups.

Scientists have said that getting one of the COVID-19 vaccination series available in the United States greatly protects people from severe illness and likely hospitalization should they be exposed to the coronavirus and its variants. Adding booster provides even more protection against serious health challenges or death, experts say. The Health Collaborative and other public health experts also recommend wearing a mask while indoors or in large groups.

Local health agencies provide lists of where residents can become vaccinated from COVID-19 for free. Hamilton County Public Health and the Cincinnati Health Department both point to free vaccination sites and events. Most local and regional health agencies, including the Health Collaborative, also provide lists of places where residents can be tested for COVID-19 or pick up a free testing kit to use at home.

On Jan. 26, the FDA will hold a meeting to discuss how to continue to update COVID-19 vaccines for best results.


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