ZICK MILLER and ALEXANDRA JAFF
BETESDA, Maryland (AP) – With a projected rise in COVID-19 cases this winter, President Joe Biden on Thursday urged Americans to receive their boosters and support his plan to fight the new omicron variant by making vaccines and vaccines more widely available. , but without serious new restrictions in everyday life.
Biden wants to require private insurance companies to cover the costs of home tests for COVID-19, and he is tightening testing requirements for people entering the United States, regardless of their vaccine status. While several other countries are closing their borders or reinstating bans, the president said he will not impose additional restraints at this time beyond his recommendation that Americans wear masks indoors in public.
“Experts say the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks this winter, so we need to be prepared,” Biden said while visiting the National Institutes of Health in suburban Maryland after a briefing with scientific advisers.
He said his new strategy “does not include shutdowns and blockages,” and he hopes to have bipartisan support.
“My plan, which I am announcing today, has no impact on the fight against COVID-19, and I think this plan should unite us,” Biden said.
Legal concerns are holding back Biden’s demand for vaccinations or testing for workers at larger employers, and this has led the president to urge businesses to impose their own requirements so that companies can stay open without outbreaks.
His administration concluded that the widespread use of booster shots is the most effective way to fight COVID-19 this winter. Medical experts say boosters provide improved and more durable protection, including against newer options.
Much remains unknown about the omicron variant, such as whether it is more contagious, whether it causes more serious illness in humans, and whether it might interfere with vaccination. Officials said Thursday that a second case of this option has been confirmed in the United States.
About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters in line with current US policy, and more are increasing every day. Convincing vaccinees to take another dose will be easier than vaccinating the roughly 43 million American adults who have not been vaccinated, officials say.
“Go get a booster,” Biden said.
Seniors are among the most vulnerable to the virus, the White House said, and Medicare and Medicaid will send a notice to all 63 million Medicare recipients urging them to receive booster doses. AARP will work with the administration on education campaigns for seniors.
So far, about 42 million Americans, about half of whom are elderly, have received boosters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week expanded their booster dose recommendation to cover all Americans at least 18 years of age, starting six months after their second dose of mRNA vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna.
Biden said the CDC is developing new guidelines for schools to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for those who are not fully vaccinated and not exposed to the virus. This may include a “leave exam” policy whereby those deemed to be close can continue to go to school but wear masks and undergo serial testing to minimize wastage and learning disruption.
A rule that private insurers cover home testing is under development and the details are yet to be worked out, officials said.
People covered by Medicare and Medicaid will not be eligible, but the White House said up to 150 million people with private insurance will see easier, cheaper access to home tests. The administration said it is making 50 million COVID-19 tests free for seniors and other vulnerable groups to receive at senior centers and public places.
Starting next week, all travelers to the United States, regardless of nationality or vaccination, will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within one day of boarding, Biden said. For those who have been vaccinated, it is now three days. The White House has postponed tougher options, such as requiring testing upon arrival or requiring quarantine upon arrival in the United States.
The White House has yet to take action to require domestic travelers from the United States to be vaccinated or tested. Officials believe that such a requirement will lead to litigation.
“We base our decisions on the advice of health and medical experts who will be most effective and what we can implement,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.
The White House said Biden is expanding its directive requiring the use of masks on airplanes and other public transport, which expires in January until at least mid-March.
The administration tells the states that it has over 60 teams that can help them or their municipalities cope with spikes in disease and public health shortages during the winter.