White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients admitted Wednesday that the Biden administration won’t ink contracts to mass-mail 500 million COVID-19 rapid tests until “late next week” — despite a record-smashing wave of new US infections and a shortage of tests.
The timeframe means it will take the White House nearly three weeks to start the process of making tests available after previewing the plan to combat the highly contagious Omicron variant Dec. 20.
“The Department of Defense and HHS are executing on an accelerated contracting timeline. Companies are already submitting information and we expect the contract to be completed late next week,” Zients told reporters at a virtual briefing.
“That means that the first deliveries from manufacturers will start in January. We’ll set up a free and easy system, including a new website, to get these tests out to Americans,” he added. “We’re actively working to finalize that distribution mechanism, which includes a website where people will be able to order tests for free.”
Zients added that “we’ll share more details in the weeks ahead” before correcting himself to say “days and weeks ahead.”
The US recorded a record-breaking 441,000 new infections on Monday, according to CDC data — blowing away the prior record of 294,000 cases on Jan. 8, 2021 — despite the overwhelming majority of Americans being vaccinated.
More than one in 75 DC residents tested positive for the virus over the four-day Christmas weekend.
President Biden told reporters Tuesday evening that he had made “a bit of progress” on test distribution plans while staying at his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, vacation home.
The wave of cases has sent hospitalization rates up steeply in New York City, although preliminary data from other countries indicates that Omicron symptoms may be less severe.
Key details of Biden’s test distribution program aren’t yet known. It’s unclear how many tests each household will be allowed to request, how quickly they will be mailed or when a website will be launched for people to request tests.
Retailers such as CVS Pharmacy, meanwhile, have sold out of test kits at some locations and massive lines have formed at official test sites in major cities. FEMA has opened some federally run testing sites in hard-hit areas in a bid to alleviate the crunch.
Biden has expressed regret for not acting more quickly to distribute free tests. He said during a call with governors Monday that he’d have “gone harder, quicker” to distribute tests if he’d known the Omicron variant was going to cause a surge of new infections.
That same day, Biden denied a report that his administration rejected an October proposal to mass-distribute rapid tests ahead of a possible winter surge in coronavirus cases.
“We didn’t reject it,” Biden claimed on Monday in response to a question from The Post.
Vanity Fair reported last week that experts from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative and other groups pitched a 10-page plan to White House officials on Oct. 22 that called for the production of 732 million tests per month for a “Testing Surge To Prevent [a] Holiday COVID surge.” The plan called for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”
A White House spokesman argued late Monday that Biden told the truth when he denied that his team rejected the plan, which called for test kit distribution ahead of the holidays, because its ideas are now being acted upon.
“The characterization of ‘rejection’ is not an accurate reflection of a productive meeting, and in fact, we are implementing many measures that were discussed as capacity now allows us to do,” the spokesman said. “Our work is made better by collaborating with outside partners and we will continue to work with them to expand testing capacity.”