As COVID surges, feds are offering free tests and masks
From Staff Reports
As COVID rages to levels never seen before in South Carolina – the state recently hit roughly 20,000 new cases in one day – the federal government is stepping in with free COVID tests and, soon, free face masks.
The Biden administration has ordered 1 billion “rapid” at-home tests to give out free to the public, in two 500-million batches, according to media reports. The first batch is being made available now; the second won’t be on hand until spring.
Also, the federal government is making 400 million “high quality” N95 masks available, free, at community health centers and retail pharmacies, news media are reporting. Federal officials say this is the “largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.”
Between Jan. 5-18, Darlington County reported 2,425 new COVID cases. So far, the virus has killed an estimated 254 people in Darlington County.
How do you get free COVID tests? Just go to the government’s website, covidtests.gov, and click through to a U.S. Postal Service web page. You can order four tests per household, all for free.
But you won’t get them immediately. It’s expected to take seven to 12 days.
The website offering free COVID tests officially rolled out Jan. 19.
The experts advise that you should use the free tests if you have COVID-like symptoms, if you know you were exposed to someone testing positive for COVID recently, or if you’re planning some kind of indoor get-together with someone who is at higher-than-usual COVID risk.
The president’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said last week: “Every website launch, in our view, comes with risk — we can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two — but the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success.”
Plans for the free N95 face masks were a little more vague last week. Those masks are being shipped from the government’s stockpile. Some reports said some masks might be available this week, but it appears that February is a more likely schedule. It’s expected that each person can get no more than three of these masks.
For most of the pandemic, government health officials had indicated that plain cloth masks were effective in stopping transmission of the virus. Now, however, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to be emphasizing the heavier N95s. You can buy them easily on the Internet, but some officials have warned that most of the N95s circulating from online sellers may be counterfeit.