White House and U.S. Postal Service finalize plans to start shipping coronavirus test kits to U.S. households

The White House is finalizing details with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver 500 million coronavirus test kits to households across the country, according to four people familiar with the plans, kicking off a key part of the country’s response. President Joe Biden at the raging omicron variant.

The administration will launch a website for individuals to request rapid tests, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private planning sessions. Officials aim to start shipping the kits by mid-January.

Test makers and distributors seeking to provide a share of the 500 million tests have submitted proposals to the government, and the Biden administration awarded its first purchase contract on Thursday evening, a person with knowledge of the test plan said. An official announcement on the effort could arrive as early as next week.

The Postal Service is currently negotiating with its four unions to expand the seasonal workforce – the roughly 40,000 people brought in each year to help the agency manage a glut of vacation packages. The agency moved 13.2 billion pieces of mail and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

A White House representative declined to comment on this report. Representatives of the Postal Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Demand for tests has far exceeded supply in recent weeks, as millions of Americans traveled during the holiday season as the highly contagious variant of omicron began to spread. Biden announced on December 21 that his administration would buy and distribute 500 million rapid tests – as scenes unfolded across the country of people lining up outside pharmacies to buy tests or at community centers where some local governments have them. distributed to residents.

Earlier this month, as the shortages began, White House press secretary Jen Psaki played down the idea of ​​sending federally-provided tests across the country.

“Should we send one to every American?” She asked sarcastically during a press briefing on December 6. “So what if every American has a test? How much does it cost, and what happens next? “

Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters on Wednesday that manufacturers will begin providing testing to the federal government “within the next week or so.” He said the kits “would not disrupt or cannibalize in any way the tests that are on drugstore shelves and on websites and used in other settings.”

New confirmed infections in the United States have roughly quadrupled since Biden first announced plans to send Americans rapid tests, from around 155,467 cases on December 21 to nearly 611,000 cases on Tuesday. , the highest total in the pandemic, according to the Washington Post’s Seven-Day Moving Average.

The postal service has already been touted as a potential mechanism in the national response to the pandemic. The Trump administration had planned to ship 650 million reusable sheet masks to every U.S. household as of April 2020, as the country saw fewer than 30,000 new cases per day. The agency went so far as to write a press release on the program and even selected the communities where the first shipments would arrive.

But then-President Donald Trump rejected the plan over an ongoing feud with the Postal leadership and fears that sending the masks “could create concern or panic.” according to a Trump administration official.

Talks between the Biden administration and postal executives began in late December and gathered pace after Christmas, the four people involved in the planning said.

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