Biden Pivots to Home Tests to Confront Omicron Surge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fighting the omicron variant surging through the country, President Joe Biden announced the government will provide 500 million free rapid home-testing kits, increase support for hospitals under strain and redouble vaccination and boosting efforts.

Biden, who was forced to make major modifications to COVID-19’s winter plan by the rapidly-growing variant of the vaccine, spoke at the White House Tuesday. Scientists are still not fully understanding the properties. His message was clear: the winter holidays may be normal for those who have been vaccinated, but could potentially pose a danger to the unvaccinated.

He underlined that his appeals aren’t political. He noted that former President Donald Trump has gotten his booster shot, and he said it’s Americans’ “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated.
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“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” the president said. “Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”

Biden criticised the use of social media by cable TV and those who made false statements in order to discourage people getting immunized.

This latest outbreak of coronavirus forced the federal government’s attention to the need for more aggressive measures. However, Biden promised that the nation would continue its efforts to address the problem without imposing a lockdown on schools and businesses.

“I know you’re tired, and I know you’re frustrated. This has to stop. But we’re still in it,” Biden said. “We also have more tools than we had before. We’re ready, we’ll get through this.”

Scientists don’t know everything about omicron yet, but they do know that vaccination should offer strong protection against severe illness and death. It has grown at an alarming rate in South Africa since being identified about one month ago. This is why the Biden administration took immediate action to provide new testing and extra aid. Medical experts agree that there is still more work to be done.

The government will purchase 500 million rapid coronavirus tests to provide free shipping to Americans beginning in January. To order tests online, people will need to use a brand new website. The test will then be sent free by U.S. Postal Service. Based on future developments, the 500 million number may be raised.

Biden has made a big shift. He had previously called on Americans to pay for the expensive tests themselves and get reimbursed by their health insurance. After more than a decade of asking public health professionals, the U.S. government has decided to send COVID-19 free tests directly for the first time.

Experts had criticized Biden’s initial buy-first, get-paid-later approach as unwieldy and warned that the U.S. would face another round of testing problems at a critical time. Test advocates point out nations like the U.K., Germany and other countries that have made billions of public tests available to people and suggest they test their own skills twice per week.

New testing locations will be established by the federal government. The Defense Production Act will help to manufacture additional tests. New York will soon see the opening of its first federally funded testing facility. These new sites will increase the number of available testing sites to over 20,000. White House officials said they’re working with Google so that people will be able to find them by searching “free COVID test near me.”

Still, Biden’s testing surge would need to be supported by a further jump in production for all Americans to test at the recommended rate of twice weekly. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. needs to conduct 2.3 billion test per month to ensure that everyone aged 12 or older can participate in this program. That’s nearly five times the half-billion tests Biden will deploy.

According to research from Arizona State University, there are currently 600 million US tests each month. Home tests account for approximately half of that number.

In another prong to Biden’s amped-up plan, he is prepared to deploy an additional 1,000 troops with medical skills to assist hospitals buckling under the virus surge. He is also sending federal personnel immediately to Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. Plans are in place to provide additional protective equipment and ventilators from the national inventory, increasing hospital resources.

Federal Emergency Management Agency will send hundreds of paramedics teams and ambulances to support hospitals that are full. This allows them to move patients between open beds at other hospitals. Already, ambulances and paramedics teams have been deployed to New York City and Maine.

Vaccination is still the best defense because it prevents disease from ever happening. Multiple vaccination centers will be supported by the government, and hundreds of people will administer shots. The new rules make it possible for pharmacists across states to provide a wider range of shots by allowing them to be more flexible.

Biden responded to a question by saying that he might lift the ban on travel from Southern Africa that had been imposed in order to prevent omicrons reaching the U.S.

Some prominent experts said that Biden’s new actions are a step in the right direction but he hasn’t gone far enough, given the risks of infections and hospitals being overwhelmed.

“I don’t know that the measures being proposed are going to be adequate,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Hotez stated that the government could need to authorise a second booster for health workers to prevent infection. If this happens, clinicians would be left out.

Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, said the administration “finally sees the light” with Biden’s plan to ship 500 million tests, but “we need to pull out all the stops, and we’re not doing that still.”

“We don’t have control of this pandemic here,” said Topol.

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

“There’s a lack of boldness,” Topol said. “I am disappointed.”

Researchers believe that omicron is more spreadable than any other coronavirus strain, such as delta. Last week, it was responsible for almost three-quarters (37%) of all U.S. new infections.

To emphasize the severity of the disease, the White House announced late Monday that Biden had spoken with an employee who was later positive for COVID-19. This staffer was able to spend about thirty minutes in close contact with the President on Friday’s Air Force One flight. Jen Psaki from the White House said Monday that the employee tested positive. She was fully vaccinated.

Psaki stated that Biden had tested negative two times since Sunday, and would test positive again Wednesday. He cleared his throat several times at Tuesday’s event but spoke firmly and appeared fine.

In New York City, nearly 42,600 people citywide tested positive from Wednesday through Saturday — compared with fewer than 35,800 in the entire month of November. Since testing was made widely available, the city has never seen so many positive tests in so short a time.

Report by Zeke Miller and DarleneSuperville (Associated Press).


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