Biden Pivots for home test to confront Omicron Surge

WASHINGTON (AP) – Fighting omicron variant President Joe Biden announced the government will provide 500 million free at-home rapid testing kits, ramping up support for stressed and double-vaccination hospitals, and ramping up efforts.

At the White House on Tuesday, Biden detailed major changes to his COVID-19 winter plans, his hand was forced by a rapidly spreading variant, whose properties are still not fully understood by scientists. His message, however, is clear that the winter holidays can be near-normal for the vaccinated while potentially dangerous for the unvaccinated.

His pleas were not political, he insisted. He noted that former President Donald Trump had gotten a booster shot and that he said it was the “patriotic duty” of Americans to get vaccinated.
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“It’s the only thing that has a responsibility to do,” the president said. “Omicron is serious and potentially fatal business for the unvaccinated.”

Biden has criticized social media and people on cable TV who have made misleading statements aimed at discouraging people from getting vaccinated.

This latest coronavirus outbreak has required the federal government to be more aggressive in tackling the wave of infections, but Biden has promised a weary nation that there won’t be a mass containment wave. school or business.

“I know you’re tired, and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to end. But we’re still in it,” Biden said. “We also have more tools than before. We are ready, we will get through this. ”

Scientists don’t know everything about omicrons yet, but they do know that vaccination strongly protects against severe illness and death. This variant has spread at an alarming rate since it was identified in South Africa about a month before the Biden administration got into action. provide new tests and additional aid. Some medical experts say more is still needed.

The foundation of the plan is for the government to buy 500 million coronavirus quick test for free shipping to Americans starting in January. People will use a new website to order their tests, which will then be mailed to the US free of charge. 500 million can be increased, depending on the development.

It marks a major shift for Biden, who has previously urged many Americans to buy their own hard-to-find tests and then seek reimbursement from 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 have criticized Biden’s original approach buy first, pay later because it is difficult to use and warns that the US will face another round of testing at a critical time. Trial advocates just come countries including Great Britain and Germany, distributed billions of tests to the public and recommended that people test themselves twice a week.

The federal government will also set up new testing sites and use Defense Production Act to help produce more testing. The first new federally supported test site will open in New York this week. New sites will increase to 20,000 already available. White House officials said they are working with Google so people can find them by searching for “free COVID tests near me”.

However, Biden’s increase in testing will need to be supported by a further leap in production for all Americans to test at the recommended rate of twice a week. According to the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, the US will need 2.3 billion tests per month for everyone 12 years of age and older. That’s almost five times the half a billion tests Biden will launch.

Currently, the US can perform about 600 million tests per month, of which at-home tests account for about half, according to researchers from Arizona State University.

In another spearhead of Biden’s ramping up plan, he is set to deploy an additional 1,000 troops with medical skills to assist hospitals battling a surge in the virus. In addition, he also immediately sent federal health workers to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. And there are plans to prepare additional ventilators and protective equipment from the national stockpile, expanding resources for hospitals.

As a support agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will deploy hundreds of ambulances and medical crews so that if a hospital runs out of space, it can transport patients to open beds in a different location. other hospital. Ambulances have been directed to New York and Maine, and ambulance crews will travel to New Hampshire, Vermont and Arizona.

But vaccination is still the main way of protection, as it can prevent epidemics in the first place. The government will support many vaccination sites and provide hundreds of personnel to administer the shots. The new regulations will make it easier for pharmacists working across the state lines to administer a wider variety of shots.

Biden said before the question that he could lift the South African travel ban that was put in place to delay omicrons arriving in the US

Some prominent experts say Biden’s new action is a step in the right direction, but he has not gone far enough, given the risk of infection and overwhelmed hospitals.

“I don’t know if the measures being proposed are appropriate,” said Dr Peter Hotez, chair of the National Department of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Hotez said the government may need to allow a second booster shot for healthcare workers to prevent infections that could hit doctors when all hands are needed.

Dr Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, said the administration “finally saw the light” with Biden’s plan to ship 500 million tests, but “we need it.” had to do all the stops, and we” still didn’t do it. “

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

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

“There is a lack of boldness,” Topol said. “I’m disappointed.”

Scientists say omicrons spread even more easily than other strains of coronavirus, including delta. It accounted for nearly three-quarters of new infections in the United States last week.

Highlighting the scope of the virus, the White House said late Monday that Biden had been in close contact with an employee who later tested positive for COVID-19. Staff members spent about 30 minutes around the president aboard Air Force One on Friday. The staff, who are fully vaccinated and in good health, tested positive on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Psaki said Biden has tested negative twice since Sunday and will test again on Wednesday. He cleared his throat several times at Tuesday’s event but spoke firmly and sounded fine.

In New York City, nearly 42,600 people across the city tested positive from Wednesday to Saturday – compared to less than 35,800 for the whole month of November. The city has never had so many people test positive in such a short amount of time since testing became widely available.

Associated Press writers Matthew Perrone, Darlene Superville, and Zeke Miller contributed to this report. Biden Pivots for home test to confront Omicron Surge

Aila Slisco

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