by Josh Bok and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
WASHINGTON (AP) — Beginning with the Omron edition in March, President Joe Biden plans to announce 500 million free rapid tests for Americans, increasing support for hospitals under pressure and efforts to redo immunizations. to encourage.
In a speech scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Biden is detailing major changes to his COVID-19 winter plan, his hands forced by the arrival of a rapidly spreading version whose properties are not yet fully understood by scientists. has gone.
The world is facing a second straight COVID-19 holiday season as family and friends begin to gather. Scientists don’t yet know for sure how serious the disease usually caused by Omicron can be, but they do know that vaccination provides strong protection against serious illness and death.
The White House provided details on the proposals that Biden will announce in his speech.
Biden’s decision is a cornerstone of a plan for the government to buy 500 million coronavirus rapid tests for free shipments to Americans starting in January. The White House said people would use a new website to order their tests, which would then be sent at no charge by US mail.
It’s a big change for Biden, who has previously urged many Americans to buy hard-to-find tests on their own and then sought reimbursement from his health insurance. For the first time, the US government will send free COVID-19 tests directly to Americans, after more than a year urged by public health experts.
Experts had criticized Biden’s early buy-first, pay-later approach and warned that the US would face another round of problems with testing at a critical time. Testing advocates point to places like the UK and Germany, which have distributed billions of tests to the public and recommend people test themselves twice a week.
The federal government will also set up new test sites and use the Defense Production Act to help build more tests. The first new federally-backed testing site will open in New York this week. The new test sites will be added to the 20,000 already available. White House officials said they are working with Google to help people search for “free COVID tests near me.”
Still, Biden’s testing surge would be far below the levels needed for all Americans to be tested at the recommended rate of twice weekly. According to the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, America will need 2.3 billion tests per month for everyone 12 years of age and older. That’s nearly five times the half-billion tests that Biden will deploy.
Currently, the US can conduct about 600 million tests per month, with home tests accounting for about half, according to researchers at Arizona State University.
In another aspect of Biden’s amped-up plan, he is set to deploy an additional 1,000 soldiers with medical skills to assist hospitals under the virus’ surge. Additionally, he is immediately sending federal medical personnel to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. There are also plans to build additional ventilators and protective equipment from the national stockpile, expanding hospital resources.
As a backstop, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will deploy hundreds of ambulances and paramedical teams so that if one hospital fills up, they can move patients to open beds in other facilities. Ambulances are already headed to New York and Maine, and paramedic teams are going to New Hampshire, Vermont and Arizona.
But vaccination remains the main defense, because it can ward off the disease in the first place. The government will support multiple vaccination sites and provide hundreds of personnel to administer the shots. The new rules will make it easier for pharmacists to operate across state lines to administer a wider range of shots.
For people who have already been fully vaccinated, booster shots have been shown in laboratory tests to provide stronger protection against Omicron. Although reports of breakthrough cases abound, data show that people who become infected are much less likely to have severe illness leading to hospitalization or death. For those unconvinced, Biden plans to deliver a stern warning that he is putting his life and the lives of his loved ones at risk.
In a preview of Biden’s speech, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Monday’s press briefing that the Democratic president does not plan to impose any lockdowns and will instead encourage people to get vaccinated — and, if they are eligible. , then to get their booster shots.
Some leading experts said Biden’s plan is a step in the right direction, but given the risk of infections and hospitals being overwhelmed, the president has not gone far enough to try to get ahead of the virus.
“I don’t know if the proposed measures are going to be enough,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Hotez said the government may need to go a step further by authorizing a second booster shot for health care workers to prevent infections that would bypass physicians when all-hands are required.
Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., said the administration “finally saw the light” on testing with Biden’s plan to ship 500 million tests, but the type of test is important at a time. When the disease can spread rapidly.
“We don’t have control over this epidemic here,” Topol said. “We need to pull out all the stops, and we’re still not doing that.”
Topol said the government could redefine “thorough vaccination” as three shots instead of two Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with Biden ordering the Federal Aviation Administration to ban air travel by people who There are no complete vaccines, and the government can exercise its authority. Increasing production of high quality masks for free distribution.
“There’s a lack of courage,” said Topol. “I am disappointed.”
Scientists say that Omicron spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, including Delta. It accounted for nearly three-quarters of new US infections last week.
Underscoring the reach of the virus, the White House said late Monday that Biden had been in close contact with a staff member who later tested positive for COVID-19. The employee spent about 30 minutes around the president on Air Force One on Friday. Saki said the employee, who was fully vaccinated and euthanized, tested positive on Monday.
Psaki said Biden has tested negative twice since Sunday and would test again on Wednesday. Citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Psaki said Biden does not need to be quarantined and will continue with his regular schedule.
In New York City, about 42,600 people across the city tested positive from Wednesday to Saturday – compared with fewer than 35,800 in the entire month of November. Not so many people have tested positive in the city in such a short period of time since the test became widely available.
Associated Press writers Matthew Perrone, Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the trip was to Orangeburg, not Orange.