Biden outlines new Omicron strategy, will order 500 million at-home tests for Americans
The president said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus will result in more “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated Americans.
President Biden on Tuesday warned that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is expected to cause breakthrough infections “potentially in large numbers” and urged Americans to get vaccinated because “it’s the only responsible thing to do.”
“Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people,” Biden said as he announced an administration plan to combat a winter surge of coronavirus. “If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned .... The unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in the hospital or even dying.”
Biden’s speech came as federal officials have warned that Omicron is so contagious that it’s expected to cause more breakthrough cases. It has surpassed the Delta variant as the leading cause of infection faster than expected, with federal officials reporting on Monday that nearly three-fourths of new cases last week were caused by Omicron.
The city had more than 15,000 new positive COVID-19 tests Monday.
Biden encouraged those who are eligible to get a booster shot, adding that fully vaccinated people should not change their holiday plans.
“Some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with family and friends,” Biden said. “The answer is, ‘Yes, you can,’ if you and those you are celebrating with are vaccinated.”
He also noted that former President Trump recently disclosed that he got a booster shot.
Trump’s followers are among those who have most ardently pushed back on getting vaccinated, according to public opinion polls. The former president drew scattered boos when he acknowledged having received another vaccine dose during a live show on Sunday with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
In his speech, Biden outlined strategies to curb the effect of the contagious Omicron variant that he indicated had caught the administration off-guard. “I do not think anybody anticipated that this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did,” he said.
The plan released Tuesday includes deploying 1,000 troops to hospitals and setting up more vaccination sites. The administration will also purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests that will be available to Americans starting next month free of charge.
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Some experts worried that the response was too little, too late.
“These actions actually are going to be extremely useful, particularly shoring up of hospital capacity,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “However, it is disappointing that the acceleration and the availability of home testing is only going to come beginning in January, when there is such a pressing need for them now and this was a predictable need.”
Lindsey Dawson, associate director of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said 500 million home tests is “absolutely a step in the right direction” but she wasn’t sure it would meet demand. “That’s something we can’t really project or predict right now,” Dawson said.
The president encouraged schools to remain open, guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest “test-to-stay” policy. It states that students exposed to the coronavirus can remain in class and avoid home quarantine if they test negative for the virus.
“We can keep our K-through-12 schools open, that’s exactly what we should be doing,” Biden said. “The science is clear and overwhelming we know how to keep our kids safe.”
The White House said it has also prepositioned ventilators, masks, gowns and other medical equipment it keeps in the Strategic National Stockpile to get to hospitals as quickly as possible.
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