Biden to double free COVID tests and add N95 to fight omicrons

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the number of rapid home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free of charge to Americans, along with the most protective N95 masks, as he highlighted his efforts to “build up” resources to help the country experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.

Biden also announced that 1,000 military medics will begin deploying nationwide from next week to help congested healthcare facilities reduce staff shortages due to the highly-transmitted omicron option.

Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in home quarantine due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployment will be in addition to other federal medical personnel that have already been sent to the states to provide assistance in case of severe shortages.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Biden admitted “I know we’re all disappointed as we enter this new year” as cases of the virus reach new heights. But he insisted that it remains a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people have tested positive for the virus, but Biden noted medical data showing people are far less likely to get seriously ill and die if they’ve been vaccinated: “What happens after that couldn’t be more different.” “.

Biden’s comments came as his administration’s focus is shifting towards mitigating disruptions due to the spike in cases, which is also contributing to food shortages and flight cancellations, rather than preventing transmission of the virus.

On Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, told Congress that the highly contagious strain will infect “most people” and that the focus should be on keeping critical services running.

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“I think it’s hard to understand what’s really happening right now, which is: most people will get COVID, okay?” she said. “What we need to do is make sure hospitals can still function – transportation, other essential services won’t be disrupted while this is happening.”

Biden said he is directing his team to double the purchase of rapid COVID-19 tests, which will be delivered free to Americans through a future federal website, as he tries to respond to criticism over shortages and long waiting lists for tests. The original order was for 500 million tests, and the federal government will now purchase 1 billion home testing kits.

The first batch of test kits will be available from next week, when the administration launches a new website for Americans to request free tests, Biden said. The remaining tests will be delivered in the coming months.

Biden also said that for the first time, his administration plans to make free “high-quality” N95 masks, which most effectively prevent transmission of the virus. He said his administration will announce details next week.

The White House said this week that the federal government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks. And while studies have shown that these masks provide better protection, they are often more uncomfortable, and health officials do not change their recommendations to recommend less protective cloth masks.

“The best mask is one that you will wear and that you can wear all day, that you can wear in public spaces,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.

Biden urged Americans to wear masks indoors to slow the spread of the virus, even as he admitted they were “aching in the neck.”

During Thursday’s speech, Biden was joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who recently recovered from his own case of COVID-19, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. They heard about the work of more than 800 military personnel who have helped civilian hospitals since Thanksgiving, and more than 14,000 members of the National Guard whose work to support vaccinations, testing and patient care is covered by the federal government.

The White House said they spoke to federal personnel already in Arizona, Michigan and New York to learn about their experiences.

Biden also announced that six additional military medical teams would be sent to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.

The White House said teams will support Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit, University Hospital in Newark, University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Cleveland Clinic and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

The Department of Defense deployment will join another team sent by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to Bob Riney, president of health operations and chief operating officer of Detroit Health System Henry Ford. He said the phases of the operation would be “extremely coordinated”.

“They don’t overlap. They complement each other,” he told reporters on Thursday.

The first group of medical personnel arrived on Sunday and were briefed before attending to patients on Monday. They provide care for 24 beds and support staff at the Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital in inpatient care and operations, Rainey said.

The first stage will last until January 21, and the second team will come for another 30 days. “We are looking forward to 45 days of full support and that will have a much more meaningful impact,” he said.

“We welcome and are grateful for any support we provide,” said Rainey, who told reporters that the federal government has decided to address the needs at Wyandotte Hospital after the health system submitted the current situation and data to the Health and Human Services Service.

A Cleveland Clinic spokesman said the hospital system “receives federal support from a team of approximately 20 military medics.”

Andrea Pacetti, spokeswoman, said they will likely begin operations next week at the clinic’s main Cleveland campus. CEO and President Dr. Tom Michalewicz said in a statement Thursday: “We are grateful for federal support as we continue to face a major resurgence of COVID-19 in our hospitals in Ohio. The addition of military medical staff allows us to take care of more patients. patients in our community.”

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