Biden announces 500 million more tests will be bought for Americans

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WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday ramped up his administration’s response to a surge in the coronavirus caused by the Omicron variant, sending much-needed aid to overwhelmed hospitals and pledging to provide Americans with free tests and masks when the country goes into enters the third year of the pandemic.

Mr Biden said he is directing his staff to buy an additional 500 million tests for distribution to Americans, doubling the government’s previous purchase as his government scrambles to respond to the highly contagious Omicron.

In addition, the president said he is dispatching a total of 120 military medics to six states where hospitals have been swamped with cases. And he vowed to unveil plans next week to help Americans by providing free, high-quality masks that are better at preventing infection from the virus.

The announcement of additional testing came as Mr Biden prepared to receive an update from leaders of his Covid response team at the White House on Thursday morning.

“We will continue to work with retailers and online retailers to increase availability,” he said.

However, it is 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 will not ship until later this month, according to White House officials. Details on how Americans can request these tests, including a government-run testing website, are set to be unveiled Friday.

The president did not say when the new batch of 500 million tests will be manufactured and ready for distribution. But he said at-home testing – along with more than 20,000 testing sites across the country – will help meet rising demand as people try to continue with work, school and social life despite the rapid spread of the virus .

“We’re on track to launch a website next week where you can order free tests to have them delivered to your home,” he said, adding that people with health insurance will soon be able to purchase up to eight tests a week month can be reimbursed.

Mr. Biden gave no details on what he believes would be a plan to ensure Americans have access to quality masks. Experts have said KN95 and N95 masks offer better protection against Omicron than the more common cloth or surgical masks that many people wear.

The announcement to help hospitals marks the start of a deployment of 1,000 service workers to help doctors and nurses manage a surge in omicron cases, Mr. Biden said.

The President appeared at the White House along with Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense, and Deanne Criswell, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to introduce teams that were traveling to hard-hit communities across the country. Mr. Biden said late last month that he would tap into 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 who are in hospitals arrive to enable short-time work. manned emergency rooms to make room.

Each of these states has experienced astronomical increases in known cases, already surpassing previous national peaks per capita last winter, according to a New York Times database. As of Wednesday, Rhode Island is up nearly 700 percent from last winter’s peak, while per capita cases in New York and New Jersey were four to five times the statewide peak of last year.

Hospital admissions per capita in five of the six states have already surpassed last winter’s peak; New Mexico is the exception at 73 percent of this peak. And with deaths, Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio have climbed higher than the peak in recent days, while New Jersey and New York are nearing that level.

The deployments are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to manage the recent spate of omicron cases, which have reached more than 780,000 a day nationwide. The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has hit a record high at about 142,000.

As Omicron was found to cause less severe disease and vaccines continue to protect the vast majority of people from its worst outcomes, many public health experts have called for a less focus on case numbers and more emphasis on hospitalizations amid record-breaking national spikes lay. But experts fear the sheer number of cases will strain health systems already strained by previous surges and staffing shortages. Although at least some hospital patients have accidentally tested positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions other than Covid-19, experts say accidental infections can still pose significant health risks.

For Mr. Biden, the inability to get the pandemic under control has helped lower his approval ratings as he enters his second year in office. Its employees are keen to publicly communicate their efforts to fight the virus.

Since Thanksgiving, when Omicron was first spotted in South Africa, the government has dispatched over 800 military and emergency personnel to 24 states, tribes and territories, officials said, not counting the personnel Mr Biden announced on Thursday.

In addition, more than 14,000 National Guard members in 49 states have been activated to assist in hospitals with vaccinations, testing and other medical services, officials said. Those missions were paid for by the American Rescue Plan, a law Mr. Biden lobbied for early in his tenure.

Officials said there are likely to be more deployments of military medical personnel in the coming days as the country continues to struggle with the pandemic.

Adel Hasan contributed reporting.

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