Biden’s winter Covid plan is aimed at keeping the U.S. economy open.

The variant was first spotted by scientists in southern Africa and is now known to be present in more than 30 countries including the United States. It has mutations that scientists say may allow it to spread more quickly and cause more breakthrough infections in vaccinated or previously infected people, though neither characteristic has yet been confirmed.

In the United States, home coronavirus tests have been relatively hard to come by because of supply shortages, and they are expensive — as much as $25 apiece. Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University, said that rather than have people go through the cumbersome process of seeking insurance reimbursement for tests, “we should just subsidize them and make it incredibly cheap.”

In Britain, he noted, rapid tests are free, and in Germany they cost consumers about $1 apiece.

Reimbursement for at-home tests in the United States will not happen immediately, and will not be retroactive, the senior administration officials said, adding that federal agencies would issue guidance by Jan. 15 to clarify that insurers would have to reimburse people for at-home tests during the Covid-19 public health emergency. It was unclear how many tests a person could be reimbursed for buying.

Private insurers already cover the cost of coronavirus tests administered in doctor’s offices and other medical facilities. At least eight at-home tests are on the U.S. market.

Looking forward, experts envision a world where people will test themselves as soon as they exhibit symptoms — and then, if they are positive, would go into quarantine and seek treatment with new antiviral medicines that are in development. The White House says it is taking steps to secure 13 million courses of antiviral treatments.

Mr. Biden’s new strategy will extend the current mask mandate for people on airplanes, trains and buses, and in terminals and transit hubs, through mid-March.

Only six states now require people to wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of their vaccination status. Three more — California, New York and Connecticut — require masks indoors for people who are unvaccinated.

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