As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the U.S., President Joe Biden announced new efforts to address this latest coronavirus surge.
"I want to start by acknowledging how tired, frustrated and worried I know you are," Biden said in a press briefing today. "Tens of millions have gotten sick and we've all experienced upheaval in our lives. But while COVID has been a tough adversary, we've shown that we're tougher."
Here are some of the major ways that Biden's administration is planning to address omicron and the current COVID-19 surge.
Help for overburdened hospital systems
“We are preparing hospitals for what’s coming,” Biden said, pointing in particular to the toll that COVID-19 among unvaccinated people is likely to take — and is already taking — on health care systems. “That will mean hospitals are going to get extremely stressed both in terms of equipment and personnel to care for those who are sick.”
To lessen that burden, Biden announced that he would be directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deploy emergency medical staff and additional ambulances. The goal is to assist in transporting patients between hospitals that are full and those that still have beds available.
FEMA has also helped expand hospital capacity across the country, including the implementation of new surge medical sites in Louisiana as well as added hospital beds and other supplies in Maryland and California, according to a White House fact sheet.
This week, paramedics are being deployed to Arizona, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.
Free testing and reimbursement for at-home test kits
The president made it clear that his team has been increasing access to testing sites and rapid test kits throughout 2021. But the need for testing skyrocketed in recent weeks with the discovery of the omicron variant just before the winter holidays.
"One of the other things we know that has to be done is more testing because omicron spreads easily, especially among the unvaccinated," he said. "It's critically important we know who is infected, and that means we need more testing."
As part of Biden's plan, his administration will send out 500 million rapid at-home tests to Americans who want them for free. They'll be delivered starting in January. Previously, Biden also announced that people can get reimbursed for at-home rapid test kits through their health insurance.
Biden also announced that the creation of new federal testing sites across the country in places that need assistance in this area. The first sites will be implemented in New York City.
Finally, Biden said that he'll use the Defense Production Act to help increase production of even more at-home rapid tests.
Increased access to COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
In his remarks, Biden specifically pointed to the value of science and vaccination, adding that COVID-19 (including the omicron variant) is particularly dangerous for those who remain unvaccinated.
“If you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned it,” Biden said.
“But those who are unvaccinated should proceed with extreme caution. “You have an obligation to yourselves, to your family and, quite frankly, I know I’ll get criticism for this — to your country,” he continued. “Get vaccinated now. It’s free. It’s convenient. I promise you, it saves lives.”
Knowing that COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective tool we have in reducing the spread of the virus, the president announced a slew of new measures to increase access to the shots — and boosters.
That includes 10,000 new vaccination sites (bringing the total to 90,000 sites nationwide) as well as ramping up staffing to meet the demand for vaccines. Biden also announced that his administration will deploy hundreds of federal vaccinators to help understaffed vaccine sites and assist with surge pharmacy teams where there is unmet demand.
The president also mentioned that pharmacies are adding more appointments and are planning to open new vaccination sites for kids in January.
Prioritizing keeping schools open
With effective vaccines and better access to rapid tests, we have more tools that can help keep schools open this year than we did last year. And Biden made it clear that in-person learning is a priority this year.
“We’re making sure COVID-19 no longer closes businesses or schools,” Biden said. He called out vaccination requirements and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's endorsement of the test-to-stay policy in schools as a way to help keep kids in school.
"The science is clear and overwhelming. We know how to keep our kids safe from COVID-19," the president said. "K through 12 schools should be open. And safety is increased if schools require all adults who work in the schools to get vaccinated and take the safety measures that the CDC has recommended, including masking."
He also pointed to investments from Congress in school improvements, including ventilation, as ways to keep schools safe and open at this stage of the pandemic.