WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday stepped up his administration’s response to a coronavirus surge caused by the Omicron variant, sending what he said was urgent aid to overwhelmed hospitals and pledging to provide Americans with tests and free masks as the country enters the third year of the pandemic.
Mr Biden said he was directing his staff to purchase 500 million more coronavirus tests to distribute to Americans, doubling the government’s previous purchase as his administration scrambles to respond to the highly contagious variant of Omicron.
Additionally, the president said he is sending a total of 120 military medical personnel to six states where hospitals have been overwhelmed with cases. And he promised to reveal plans next week to help Americans by providing free, high-quality face masks that are more effective at preventing infection with the virus.
The announcement of further testing came as Mr Biden prepared to get an update from the leaders of his Covid response team at the White House on Thursday morning.
“This will mean a billion tests in total to meet future demand,” Mr. Biden said. “And we will continue to work with retailers and online retailers to increase availability. “
But it’s unclear when the tests will be available. Mr Biden announced the first batch of 500 million tests just before Christmas, and the first batch of that announcement won’t start shipping until later this month, according to White House officials. Details on how Americans can request these tests, including a government-run testing website, are expected to be released on Friday.
The president did not specify when the new batch of 500 million tests will be manufactured and ready for distribution. But he said home testing – along with more than 20,000 testing sites across the country – will help meet growing demand as people try to keep working, attending school and living. in society despite the rapid spread of the virus.
“We are on track to roll out a website next week where you can order free tests shipped to your home,” he said, adding that people with medical insurance will also soon be able to get reimbursed. for the purchase of up to eight tests per month.
Mr. Biden did not provide any details on what he said was a plan to ensure Americans have access to high-quality masks. Experts said KN95 and N95 masks protect against the Omicron variant better than the more common cloth or surgical masks that many people wear.
“As I have said for the past two years, please wear a mask. I think it’s part of your patriotic duty,” he said, acknowledging that “it’s not that comfortable, it’s a pain in the neck.
The hospital aid announcement marked the start of a deployment of 1,000 service members to help doctors and nurses deal with a surge in Omicron cases, Biden said.
About this data
Sources: National and local health agencies (cases, deaths); US Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).
The president appeared alongside Lloyd J. Austin III, the Secretary of Defense, and Deanne Criswell, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at the White House to detail the teams heading to hard-hit communities affected across the country. Mr Biden said late last month he would call in the military to help hospitals in early January.
The new teams of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel would begin arriving at hospitals in Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island, the president said. , to help triage patients arriving at hospitals, allowing short-staffed emergency departments to free up space.
The deployments are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to deal with the latest wave of cases caused by the highly contagious variant of Omicron. As it has increased, new cases have also increased, reaching more than 780,000 per day across the country. The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has reached a record high of around 142,000.
For Mr Biden, the inability to bring the pandemic under control has helped lower his approval ratings as he enters his second year in office. Its staff intend to publicly communicate their efforts to fight the virus.
Since Thanksgiving, when Omicron was first discovered in South Africa, the administration has sent more than 800 military personnel and relief workers to 24 states, tribes and territories, officials said, not including personnel announced Thursday by Mr. Biden.
In addition, more than 14,000 members of the National Guard have been activated in 49 states to help hospitals with vaccinations, tests and other medical services, officials said. These deployments were funded by the American Rescue Plan, a law Mr. Biden defended early in his tenure.
“To the military medical teams on the ground, thank you for all you do,” the president said.
Officials said there would likely be further deployments of military medical personnel in the coming days as the country continues to fight the pandemic.
Zachary Montague contributed reports.