WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced the purchase of a half-billion, at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and the mobilization of 1,000 military medical personnel to overburdened hospitals, as officials confront a new surge in infections driven by the omicron variant.
The president unveiled the stepped-up measures in a speech from the White House as the nation – already fatigued by a pandemic that’s lasted nearly two years – faces rising COVID-19 infections.
Biden said Americans will be able to request the free-at-home COVID-19 tests be mailed to their homes by accessing an online website. It comes as shortages have led to long lines and overwhelmed hospitals in hot spots while Americans crisscross the country for the holiday season.
“I know you’re tired. I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over,” Biden said in his remarks from the White House State Dining Room “But we’re still in it. And this is a critical moment. But we also have more tools than we’ve ever had before.”
Americans will not be able to request the at-home tests online until January, meaning they can’t access the kits before millions are expected to travel for Christmas. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is still working through details of the program, including how many kits will be available for households and whether some groups would be prioritized.
The 500 million tests – among eight versions approved by the Food and Drug Administration – are in addition to 50 million tests the federal government began distributing this month to community health centers. Biden said his administration has also worked to make it easier to search online to find nearby COVID-19 tests.
‘No this is not March 2020,’ Biden says
The U.S. has lagged behind other nations in a testing capacity. Pressed by reporters about the shortages, Biden said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated that this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did.”
The moves come as the country faces a new challenge in the fight against COVID-19: Federal health officials announced Monday the omicron variant accounted for 73% of new cases last week, a nearly six-fold increase in the new variant’s share of infections in only one week.
Biden thanked Americans for their “perseverance and courage” and returned to a familiar message: urging Americans to get vaccinated and receive their third booster shot. He stressed the unvaccinated face a greater likelihood of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.
“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned,” Biden said. He told people who are vaccinated to “remain vigilant” and wear face masks indoors in public settings but said they are protected from severe illness and death.
“If you got your booster shot, if you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you plan. You’ve done the right thing.”
Despite the urgency, Biden rejected concerns that the U.S. could return to where it was in March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic started.
“No, this is not March of 2020. Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We’re prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused.”
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