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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The White House allocated an additional $1 billion to buy millions of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests earlier this week.

Why it matters: Rapid tests can quickly determine whether you're infected with COVID-19 and at risk of spreading it to others, but lack of funding — and slow approval — has led to a dire shortage.

Driving the news: White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients told reporters on Wednesday that the new funding — as well as an additional $2 billion allocated in September — will quadruple the number of available tests over the next few months.

  • Earlier in the week the FDA also authorized Flowflex, a rapid at-home test made by ACON Laboratories that the White House expects will retail at about $10 per test, making it cheaper than other available diagnostics.
  • "We'll have available supply of 200 million rapid at-home tests per month, starting in December," he said.

How it works: Rapid antigen tests — which can deliver results in as little as 15 minutes — are particularly useful for the current moment.

  • As millions of Americans return to school and the workplace, rapid tests can let them quickly determine their COVID-19 status if they've been exposed to the virus or they begin to show symptoms.
  • My thought bubble: My wife and I used one of our last remaining rapid tests this past weekend on my as-yet-unvaccinated 4-year-old so he could attend a bar mitzvah with us. (He was negative, which was fortunate because the party had both pizza and foosball.)

The catch: In part because of that utility, however, rapid tests have become increasingly difficult to find.

  • "Employer demand has gone crazy," Doug Bryant, CEO of testing company Quidel, told Reuters. "We won't be able to meet all the requests that we're having."
  • Even if the U.S. can get to 200 million rapid tests per month, it will mean less than one test per person at a time when both COVID-19 and traditional winter infections like the flu will be active.

What's next: This week, the FDA also authorized a new lab-based test from PerkinElmer that can detect COVID-19 as well as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus — a capability that should be especially useful this winter.

Go deeper

19 hours ago - Health

UnitedHealth thinks the worst of COVID may be over

Expand chart
Data: Company filings; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

UnitedHealth Group raised its profit projections for the rest of 2021 even though the insurer covered 60,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations during the third quarter, a number that was "meaningfully above the second quarter," executives said Thursday.

Why it matters: Health insurers expected to incur higher COVID costs in the quarter after the Delta variant ran rampant over the summer, especially in states with low vaccination rates. But UnitedHealth's COVID costs fell in line with its projections and were offset by some providers delaying care again.

12 hours ago - World

Italy begins enforcement of stringent COVID vaccine policy

A man protests against the vaccine policies in Italy on Friday. Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Italy began enforcing one of the world's strictest workplace vaccination policies on Friday, risking protests and worker strikes, the Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: The policy requires all employees — in both public and private sectors — to have a "Green Pass," which shows workers have proof of vaccination, a negative test or have recently recovered from COVID-19, per AP.

America's culture wars come to Chicago

John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, addresses attendees as Mayor Lori Lightfoot watches. Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Ever since Mayor Lightfoot announced late-August that all city workers had to be vaccinated by October 15th, there has been skepticism surrounding compliance. But today is the day and the skepticism was justified.

Why it matters: FOP President John Catanzara posted a video posted to Facebook encouraging officers not to comply.

  • If officers follow that guidance, we could see half of the entire police force not on the job this weekend.