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Biden pushes COVID-19 vaccination and testing, but says ‘we’re ready’ for holiday surge

“We’re prepared today for what’s coming,” said Biden. “In March of 2020, we were not ready.”

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday several new steps the administration is taking to combat the spread of COVID-19, seeking to reassure Americans that the anticipated holiday surge won’t be a return to the devastating early days of the pandemic.

The federal government plans to set up new testing sites nationwide in addition to the 20,000 that are already operational, with the first one opening in New York City before Christmas, Biden said in remarks Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re prepared today for what’s coming,” said Biden. “In March of 2020, we were not ready.”

In addition, Biden announced the White House is preparing to ship as many as 500 million at-home test kits, and will be setting up a website for people to submit their requests, with delivery beginning in January.

Biden also sent a warning to the unvaccinated, emphasizing that unvaccinated people are most likely to face ongoing risk of severe illness and are “responsible for their own choices.”

“I honest to God believe it’s your patriotic duty” to get vaccinated, said Biden.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are once again ticking upward after a lull in October and early November, with tens of thousands more Americans filling hospital beds across the country in the past four weeks.

The increase is particularly noticeable in the Rust Belt and the Southwest. As of Wednesday, Michigan’s population-adjusted rate is highest in the nation, followed by Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The surge is connected to the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, which has overtaken delta as the dominant coronavirus variant in the United States: As of last Friday, more than 73% of new cases in the country were caused by omicron, according to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted Monday.

“We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked,” Biden said. If you’re fully vaccinated, and especially if you’ve got your booster shot, you are highly protected.”

“And no, this is not March of 2020,” he added. “200 million people are fully vaccinated.”