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Monday, December 05, 2022

Biden returns to home testing to counter omicron surge

Biden returns to home testing to counter omicron surge

By JOSH BOOK, RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and COLLIN LONG

WASHINGTON (AP) – Fighting the spread of the omicron across the country, President Joe Biden announced that the government will provide 500 million free rapid home testing kits, increase support for stressed hospitals, and double vaccinations and efforts to scale up vaccinations.

At the White House on Tuesday, Biden detailed the major changes to his COVID-19 winter plan, his hand being triggered by a rapidly spreading variant whose properties are not yet fully understood by scientists. However, his message was clear that the winter break could be close to normal for the vaccinated and potentially dangerous for the unvaccinated.

He stressed that his requests are not political in nature. He noted that former President Donald Trump was given a booster shot, and said that getting vaccinated is a “patriotic duty” of Americans.

“This is the only responsible business,” the president said. “Omicron is a serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”

Biden chastised social media and people on cable TV who made misleading statements to dissuade people from getting vaccinated.

The outbreak of this latest strain of coronavirus has demanded more aggressive measures from the federal government to tackle the wave of infections, but Biden promised the tired nation that there would be no massive closures of schools or businesses.

“I know that you are tired and I know that you are disappointed. We all want this to end. But we’re still in it, ”Biden said. “We also have more tools than we had before. We are ready, we can handle it. “

Scientists do not yet know everything about omicron, but they do know that vaccination should provide reliable protection against serious illness and death. The variant has spread at such an alarming rate since it was discovered in South Africa about a month ago that the Biden administration immediately took action to offer new tests and additional assistance. According to some medical experts, even more is needed.

A cornerstone of the plan is the government’s procurement of 500 million rapid coronavirus tests for free delivery to Americans starting in January. People will use the new website to order tests, which will then be shipped free by US mail. 500 million can be increased depending on the development of events.

This marks a major shift for Biden, who previously encouraged many Americans to buy hard-to-find tests on their own and then seek reimbursement from health insurance. For the first time, the U.S. government will send free COVID-19 tests directly to Americans after more than a year of strong calls from public health experts.

Experts criticized Biden’s original buy-first-get-money approach as cumbersome and warned that the US would face another round of testing problems at a critical juncture. Testing proponents point to countries, including the UK and Germany, that have distributed billions of tests to their populations, and recommend that people get themselves tested twice a week.

The federal government will also create new test sites and use the Defense Manufacturing Act to produce more tests. The first new federal-backed testing center will open in New York this week. The new sites will be added to the 20,000 existing ones. White House officials said they are working with Google so people can find them by searching for “free COVID test near me.”

However, Biden’s spike in testing needs to be supported by a further jump in production so that all Americans test at the recommended rate of twice a week. In the US, this will require 2.3 billion tests per month for every person 12 and older, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly five times the half-billion tests Biden will conduct.

According to researchers from Arizona State University, there are currently about 600 million tests per month in the United States, of which about half are home tests.

Another part of Biden’s heightened plan is that he is ready to send an additional 1,000 military personnel with medical skills to help hospitals that cannot withstand the outbreak of the virus. In addition, he immediately dispatches federal medical personnel to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Vermont. There are also plans to manufacture additional ventilators and protective equipment from the national stock, which expands the capabilities of hospitals.

As support, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will deploy hundreds of ambulances and paramedic teams so that if one hospital is full, patients can be transported to open beds in another. Ambulances are already heading to New York and Maine, and paramedic teams are heading to New Hampshire, Vermont and Arizona.

But vaccination remains the main defense because it can prevent disease in the first place. The government will support several vaccination centers and provide hundreds of staff to administer the vaccinations. The new rules will make it easier for pharmacists to work in different states to introduce a wider range of vaccinations.

Biden said in response to a question that he could lift the South African travel ban that was imposed to delay the omicron’s arrival in the United States.

Some prominent experts said Biden’s new move is a step in the right direction, but it hasn’t gone far enough given the risk of infection and overcrowding in hospitals.

“I’m not sure the proposed measures will be adequate,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Hotez said the government may need to authorize a second booster shot for healthcare workers to prevent infections that would distract doctors from work when all hands are needed.

Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., Said the administration “finally saw the light” with Biden’s plan to send 500 million tests, but “we need to do our best and we” you are not doin “.

“We have no control over this pandemic here,” Topol said.

He said the government could redefine the term “fully vaccinated” as three shots instead of the two vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, Biden could order a ban on air travel for people who were not fully vaccinated, and the government could use its powers to increase production. quality masks for free distribution.

“There is not enough courage,” Poplar said. “I’m sad.”

Scientists say the omicron spreads even more easily than other strains of the coronavirus, including delta. It accounted for nearly three quarters of new US infections last week.

Highlighting the spread of the virus, the White House said late Monday that Biden was in close contact with an employee who was later tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, an Air Force One employee was next to the president for about 30 minutes. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the staff member, who was fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive on Monday.

Psaki said Biden has tested negative twice since Sunday and will retest on Wednesday. At Tuesday’s event, he cleared his throat several times, but spoke firmly and looked normal.

In New York City, nearly 42,600 people across the city tested positive Wednesday through Saturday, up from less than 35,800 for all of November. The city has never had so many people testing positive in such a short period of time since testing became widely available.

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Associated Press contributors Matthew Perrone, Darlene Superville, and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that the trip was from Orangeburg and not Orange.

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