A sign about COVID-19 test is displayed at a testing site as people are seen inside for testing in Morton Grove, Illinois on Jan 9, 2022. (NAM Y. HUH / AP)
WASHINGTON / LIMA – Starting next week, Americans will no longer be able to order free at-home COVID-19 tests from a website set up by the US government due to limited supply arising from a lack of congressional funding.
The US government will continue to distribute free tests directly to long-term care facilities, schools, child care and early learning centers, community health centers, and food banks
The COVIDTests.gov website, set up during the Omicron variant record surge in cases, helped US households secure COVID-19 tests at no cost.
President Joe Biden in January pledged to procure 1 billion free tests for Americans, including 500 million available through the website. However, ordering through the program will be suspended on Sept 2.
The administration will suspend taking orders for free at-home tests through COVIDTests.gov as of Friday, Sept 2, "because Congress has not provided the COVID-19 funding we need to replenish the nation's stockpile of tests," said a senior administration official.
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The government will no longer take orders through this program to ensure some tests are still available in the fall in case there is a rise in infections, the official said.
"We have already distributed over 600 million tests through this program, and every household has had the opportunity to place three orders for a total of 16 tests," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing.
Alternative ways of getting at-home tests will remain, the official said, including getting them reimbursed by private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, which collectively cover over 92 percent of Americans.
The government will continue to distribute free tests directly to long-term care facilities, schools, child care and early learning centers, community health centers, and food banks. The government will also keep supporting around 15,000 free testing sites in pharmacies and libraries.
"If Congress provides funding, we will expeditiously resume distribution of free tests through COVIDTests.gov," the official said.
A health worker inoculates a child with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 during a vaccination campaign in Lima on Jan 25, 2022, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)
Using a face mask became optional on Monday for schoolchildren in Peru, for the first time since in-person classes resumed in late March.
According to a government decree published a day earlier, "the use of a mask is optional for students at educational institutions, and adequate ventilation must be guaranteed, in accordance with current regulations."
Face masks are still mandatory for teaching staff, who health authorities believe are a vulnerable group amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making face masks optional for schoolchildren was first announced on Aug. 25 by Education Minister Rosendo Serna, who said the decision to use one would be up to students and their parents.
This "big step" aims to return schools to normality, and facilitate communication and socialization among children, added Serna.
The Peruvian government launched a vaccination program for children between the ages of five and 11 following the return to in-person classes. The goal was to immunize 4,201,842 children in that age group, and 58.5 percent of them have already been fully vaccinated.