The federal government is taking two big steps to contain the spread of COVID-19, though they may be too late to combat the current omicron variant wave. The first is to make four at-home tests per address available for free via the U.S. Postal Service. The second is to ship 400 million N95 and KN95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile to pharmacies and health centers throughout the country.
The mask shipments will go out this week and should be available to the public late next week, the White House said. N95 and KN95 masks have shown to be more effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus than cloth masks, though officials stopped short of discouraging the use of cloth masks. The most effective mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, the one that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week. The White House said there will be three masks available per person who requests them at distribution centers.
The test kits can be ordered at https://www.covidtests.gov/, and shipments should begin this month through the USPS. The White House said “tests will typically ship within 7- 12 days of ordering.” Private insurers now also cover the cost of test kits for policyholders.
The omicron wave appears to be on the decline in the U.S. states where it first appeared, echoing a pattern seen in South Africa and the U.K. Lack of testing has been a problem as people planned travel over the holidays then returned to work and school after the break in the midst of the highly infectious omicron wave. While COVID certainly will not be gone when this wave subsides, there is hope that it could become endemic after omicron with so many people recently infected and/or vaccinated leaving the virus with a dearth of hosts.