The White House’s response to COVID, the best protection from the virus, and more COVID news

For the first time, people across the U.S. can log on to a government website and order free, at-home COVID-19 tests. But the White House push may do little to ease the omicron surge, and experts say Washington will have to do a lot more to fix the country’s long-troubled testing system.

The website, COVIDTests.gov, allows people to order four at-home tests per household, regardless of citizenship status, and have them delivered by mail. But the tests won’t arrive for seven to 12 days, after omicron cases are expected to peak in many parts of the country.

The White House also announced Wednesday that it will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free at pharmacies and community health centers. Both initiatives represent the kind of mass government investments long seen in parts of Europe and Asia, but delayed in the U.S.

A new study in two states that compares coronavirus protection from prior infection and vaccination concludes getting the shots is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19.

The study examined infections in New York and California last summer and fall and found people who were both vaccinated and had survived a prior bout of COVID-19 had the most protection.

But unvaccinated people with a past infection were a close second. By fall, when the more contagious delta variant had taken over but boosters weren’t yet widespread, that group had a lower case rate than vaccinated people who had no past infection.

Meanwhile across the pond, face masks will no longer be mandatory in public places and schools in England and COVID-19 passports will be dropped for large events as infections level off in large parts of the country, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday.

Johnson told lawmakers that the restrictions were being eased because government scientists believed it was likely that the surge of infections prompted by the highly contagious omicron variant “has now peaked nationally.”

While hospitals in northern England are still under pressure because of high caseloads, Johnson said hospital admissions and patients in intensive care units elsewhere in England were stabilizing or falling.