President Biden on Tuesday stepped up his plan to fight the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, announcing new testing sites and aid from the military to relieve overburdened hospitals.
That follows on the administration’s strategy, announced December 2, to keep businesses open, and quickly respond to surges during colder months. The Omicron variant is now dominant, representing more than 70 percent of Covid-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While cases among vaccinated individuals are increasing because Omicron is highly transmissible, the symptoms appear to be less severe. In contrast, unvaccinated individuals are at higher risk of becoming severely ill and dying, the White House said in a statement.
The president is mobilizing an additional 1,000 troops to deploy to pandemic-hit hospitals and activating Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response teams to help states and hospitals add capacity. The government is also sending hospitals millions of N-95 masks, billions of gloves, tens of millions of gowns, and more than 100,000 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies.
More at-home testing options will also become available. The administration plans to purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests this winter for free distribution. Sites are also being set up to hand out at-home test kits. The testing strategy may also help businesses handle the president’s federal vaccine mandate, effective January 4, that requires unvaccinated employees at companies with more than 100 workers to show negative Covid-19 test results before going to work.
Finally, the plan includes the creation of more vaccination clinics as a frontline defense. FEMA is standing up pop-up vaccination sites across the country, with hundreds of federal vaccinators to work them. “Our vaccines are the most powerful tools we have–they work to protect people from serious illness and death, and boosters provide people optimal protection,” the White House said in the statement.