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HHS & Partner Agencies Target COVID Tests, Long COVID Treatment

With $600 million going to COVID tests access and another $45 million going to long COVID treatment, HHS is acknowledging the uptick in case counts in recent weeks.

The Department of Health and Human Services is going all-in on COVID-19 detection and treatment again as case counts and hospitalizations tick up across the nation.

In a recent announcement, the Department said it would restart its COVID-19 mail-order test program, set to be bolstered by $600 million in test manufacturing investment.

“The Biden-Harris Administration, in partnership with domestic manufacturers, has made great strides in addressing vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain by reducing our reliance on overseas manufacturing,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “These critical investments will strengthen our nation’s production levels of domestic at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and help mitigate the
spread of the virus.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 hospitalizations are up considerably. Between September 3 and September 9, 2023, there were 20,538 COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide, amounting to a 7.7 percent increase during that time period. That’s 6.19 hospital admissions per 100,000 patients during that week, the CDC said.

This latest HHS announcement aims to stem that spread. Through more accurate disease detection, facilitated by free access to at-home COVID-19 testing kits, the agency indicated that it would be easier for individuals to know when they have the illness and self-isolate, ideally reducing the spread of the virus.

To that end, HHS, in partnership with the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), will be reopening, the website that lets households request four free test kits to be delivered by USPS. The website will be accessible starting September 25. Previous iterations of this program have resulted in nearly 755 million free COVID-19 tests being delivered to households across the country.

The program will be bolstered by $600 million in funding for test manufacturing being awarded to 12 different manufacturers nationwide. HHS said this funding will yield around 200 million COVID-19 tests for federal government use and be a jobs creator at the factories that employ hundreds of manufacturers.

“Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans,” Dawn O’Connell, the assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response, said in the press release. “ASPR’s investments in these domestic manufacturers will increase availability of tests in the future.”

In addition to reopening the COVID-19 test access website, HHS has also signaled its commitment to addressing long COVID by way of $45 million in grants for clinics treating long COVID. In partnership with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), HHS has committed $5 million in grants to nine different clinics to be issued over the next five years.

HHS and AHRQ said the awards will go to long COVID clinics that particularly treat underserved, rural, vulnerable, and minority populations. These are the groups that are disproportionately impacted by long COVID, the agencies said.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is supporting patients, doctors and caregivers by providing science-based best practices for treating long COVID, maintaining access to insurance coverage, and protecting the rights of workers as they return to jobs while coping with the uncertainties of their illness,” Becerra said of the funding announcements. “Treatment of Long COVID is a major focus for HHS, and AHRQ is helping lead the way through grants to investigate best practices and get useful guidance to doctors, hospitals, and patients.”

Clinics will use the funding to expand patient access to care and create new care delivery models and best practices for treating and managing long COVID. Additionally, the grants will help clinics support primary care providers and deliver long COVID education.

This comes as long COVID presents a pressing problem in chronic disease management. The illness is described as “signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after an initial COVID-19 infection, with people experiencing persistent, varying, and potentially disabling health impacts,” HHS and AHRQ said in their press release.

Ideally, the grant funding will help eradicate some of the barriers that are keeping individuals from long COVID treatment and management.

“Emerging research continues to transform the way we think about and treat Long COVID. To accelerate understanding and breakthroughs we’ll need to continue to work together,” Adm. Rachel L. Levine, MD, assistant secretary for Health at HHS, said in the press release. “Without diagnostic tests and treatments specific for Long COVID conditions, drawing on the collective experience of healthcare providers is critical in ensuring patients receive the care and support they need.”

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