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Coronavirus Update: U.S. government is offering free COVID tests again, as cases rise 57% from two weeks ago

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The federal government is again offering Americans free COVID-19 test kits through the mail, allowing for up to eight more tests to be ordered through the USPS.

Every home in the U.S. is allowed to order these tests, regardless of whether the residents ordered tests during the previous rounds of availability, according to the COVID.gov site. This time around, there is an order limit of two orders per residential address.

For more, see: Free rapid at-home COVID tests: You can order a third round from the federal government — here’s how

The move comes as COVID cases continue to rise and trend at the highest levels seen since November, driven by the BA.2 variant of omicron, and two other subvariants that appear to be even more infectious.

The U.S. is averaging 95,813 cases a day, up 57% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. Cases are higher in nearly every state, but the Northeast and Midwest are being particularly hard hit with case reports in both regions now higher than they were at the peak of last summer’s delta surge. There are concerns that case numbers are even higher, as many people are now testing at home and the data is not being collected.

ICYMI: U.S. COVID cases at highest levels since November, while Northeast and Midwest are above delta peak

The country is averaging 22,075 hospitalizations a day, up 24% from two weeks ago, although at a far slower pace than cases and well below the levels seen in previous surges. The daily death toll has fallen below 400 to 301 on average, down 9% from two weeks ago. The official count as measured by Johns Hopkins University is expected to top one million any time now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize a booster shot of the vaccine developed by Pfizer
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+0.99%

and German partner BioNTech
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+3.31%

for children aged 5 to 11 possibly as early as Tuesday, the New York Times reported, citing multiple people familiar with the plan.

That would make that the youngest group to be eligible for a booster shot. Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech said the booster significantly increased the level of neutralizing antibodies against both the original coronavirus and the omicron variant in a trial involving 140 children.

The FDA late Monday authorized a test developed by Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings 
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+1.60%

that allows people in the U.S. to self-test for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a type of common cold, as well as the flu and COVID-19.

The test does not require a prescription. People swab at home and send the test by mail to a Labcorp lab. Results are then made available in an online portal. Teens and children are also authorized to test with the support of adults. The test kit costs $169 and may be covered by insurance, according to a spokesperson. It is expected to be available within the next three weeks.

Separately, the agency that it won’t authorize fluvoxamine, a generic treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, as a COVID-19 therapy.

“The FDA has determined that the data are insufficient to conclude that fluvoxamine may be effective in the treatment of nonhospitalized patients with COVID-19 to prevent progression to severe disease and/or hospitalization,” the regulator said, citing the need to look at the totality of scientific data.

A group of physicians led by the University of Minnesota’s Dr. David Boulware in late 2021 formally requested that the FDA authorize fluvoxamine as a COVID-19 treatment. “I’m disappointed that FDA holds generics to different standards as big pharma, in this case using different definition of endpoints of what is a [COVID-19-related] ‘hospitalization,’” Boulware tweeted Monday.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Authorities in Beijing restricted more residents to their homes on Tuesday in a now 3-week-long effort to control a small but persistent COVID-19 outbreak in the Chinese capital, the Associated Press reported. Seven adjoining areas in the city’s Fengtai district were designated lockdown zones for at least one week, with people ordered to stay at home in an area covering about 4 by 5 kilometers (2.5 by 3 miles). The area is near a wholesale food market that was closed indefinitely on Saturday following the discovery of a cluster there. The added restrictions come as Shanghai, China’s largest city, slowly starts to ease a citywide lockdown that has trapped most of its population for more than six weeks.

• North Korea on Tuesday reported another large jump in illnesses believed to be COVID-19 as a mass outbreak spreads through its unvaccinated population and military medical officers were deployed to distribute medicine, the AP reported separately. State media said the North’s anti-virus headquarters reported another 269,510 people were found with fevers and six people died. That raises North Korea’s deaths to 56 after more than 1.48 million people became ill with fever since late April. North Korea lacks testing supplies to confirm coronavirus infections in large numbers, and the report didn’t say how many of the fever cases were COVID-19.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared wearing a mask on state TV as Pyongyang reported its first local case of Covid-19. The country, which had so far claimed to be Covid-free, has poor health infrastructure to fight outbreaks. Photo: Associated Press

• Dr. Anthony Fauci says he would not serve under Donald Trump again should the former president win back the White House in 2024, MarketWatch’s Weston Blasi reported. Trump had tapped Fauci, the director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to join the White House coronavirus task force at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. So Fauci, now the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, was asked by CNN on Sunday whether he would work with Trump for a second presidential term if COVID-19 was still a threat, or if another public health crisis emerged. Fauci responded, “Well, no,” with a small laugh. Fauci was also asked whether he would have confidence in Trump’s ability to handle a pandemic again. “If you look at the history of what the response was during the [Trump] administration, I think, you know, at best, you can say it wasn’t optimal,” Fauci responded. “And I think just, history will speak for itself about that.”

• Josh Shapiro, the only Democratic candidate running for Pennsylvania governor and the state’s sitting attorney general, has tested positive for COVID-19, he said on the morning of the 2022 Pennsylvania primary, NBC reported. Shapiro said he received positive results when he took a precautionary COVID test ahead of a trip to Johnstown and Pittsburgh Monday evening. “Attorney General Shapiro is currently experiencing mild symptoms, and he plans to continue his work of serving the people of Pennsylvania as he isolates at home,” his campaign said in a statement.

More than one million Americans were killed by Covid-19 in just over two years, the CDC reports. But the disease has hit some segments of the U.S. population far more than others. Photo illustration: Todd Johnson

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 522.1 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.26 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 82.6 million cases and 999,850 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 220.6 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.4% of the total population. But just 102.2 million are boosted, equal to 46.4% of the vaccinated population.

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