Dems urge Biden to ramp up COVID test production to 1 per week per American

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Dozens of House and Senate Democrats called on President Biden Monday to “utilize the full scope of [his] executive power” to ramp up COVID-19 rapid test production so that every American can take at least one test per week.

The plea from 51 legislators comes as retailers struggle to stock enough rapid tests and long lines persist at official test sites. The White House is still working to roll out a three-week-old initiative to mail 500 million rapid tests to homes, but has yet to launch a website for people to request test kits.

The Democrats implored Biden in a letter to invoke the Defense Production Act to force companies to boost production of tests as the highly contagious Omicron variant causes record-breaking US case numbers.

“While we are pleased to see that the administration has committed to purchasing 500 million antigen tests that will be distributed throughout the country for free, we believe that the threat of the Omicron variant demands the most comprehensive public health response possible from the federal government,” the letter says.

The letter was signed by a broad array of Democrats, including leftist leaders Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and relative centrists such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Conor Lamb (D-Pa.).

A group of Democratic lawmakers are asking President Biden to use his executive power to increase the amount of COVID-19 tests being produced.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

“Many public health experts believe that regular access to rapid testing as a screening tool is critical to combatting COVID-19, and some believe that rapid tests should be conducted as frequently as 2 times per week per individual, as recommended by public health officials in the United Kingdom,” the letter says.

“If the United States were to adopt similar recommendations, we would need roughly 2.3 billion tests per month – a figure several times the 500 million proposed by your administration. Understanding the complexities of the manufacturing and distribution processes, we respectfully urge that you utilize the full scope of your executive power under Defense Production Act to manufacture enough rapid tests to ensure that each American can take at least one rapid test per week.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki vaguely endorsed the letter at a Monday afternoon briefing while also insisting the Biden administration would begin distributing the 500 million rapid tests by direct order “in the coming weeks.”

The letter asks for enough tests to be produced for every American to be able to take one per week.
The letter asks for enough tests to be produced for every American to be able to take one per week.
Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
White House press secretary Jen Psaki  claimed that the administration will be delivering 500 million rapid tests "in the coming weeks."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki claimed that the administration will be delivering 500 million rapid tests “in the coming weeks.”
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

“300 million tests are done in this country every month. So there’s enormous progress being made,” Psaki said.

“We’ve seen that letter. The good news is that we agree and we were already doing most of what’s in that letter,” Psaki also said.

The White House reportedly rejected an expert plan in October that called for the production of 732 million tests per month for a “Testing Surge To Prevent [a] Holiday COVID surge” and for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”

Biden denied to The Post that his staff rejected the expert plan. He belatedly embraced the mass-distribution drive late last month as cases increased — but it’s unclear if those tests will reach homes in time to counter the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

This week, a previously announced Biden rule will take effect requiring health insurance companies to reimburse policyholders for rapid tests that they buy themselves. Another 50 million rapid tests are in the process of being shipped by the federal government to local clinics for free distribution and FEMA has set up federally run testing sites in New York City and other areas with high demand.

Although studies indicate the new variant causes less severe symptoms than prior strains of COVID-19, its broad spread has caused hospitalization spikes. Nearly 131,000 US hospital patients had COVID-19 as of Saturday — compared to the prior US record of 133,000 coronavirus patients last January.

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