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Biden tells Americans ‘this is a critical moment’ as Omicron cases double every two days and two vaccines may not be enough to protect you

December 21, 2021, 8:10 PM UTC

As the Omicron variant sweeps through the U.S., President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the government will take several major actions designed to mitigate the effects of the latest wave of COVID-19 cases and avoid future lockdowns. 

To help Americans identify new cases of COVID, the Biden administration is planning to purchase 500 million rapid, at-home tests and distribute them for free. Starting in January, Americans will be able to log onto a new federal website and order free tests to be sent to their homes. Currently, private insurance companies cover the costs of PCR tests and starting next month, will reimburse members for the costs of at-home tests. But Biden’s plans would provide free antigen tests outright.

“One of the other things we know that has to be done is more testing. As Omicrons spreads easily, especially among the unvaccinated, it’s critically important that we know who’s infected.” Biden said Tuesday. 

Several states and major cities—including Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York City and Washington—are already working to distribute free COVID tests.

Biden is also planning to set up a number of new federal testing sites around the country, the first of which is scheduled to launch in New York City this week. Currently, the U.S. currently has over 20,000 free testing sites.

“We’re taking even more steps to make it easy to get tested and get tested for free,” Biden said Tuesday.

In addition to expanding Americans’ access to testing, Biden also announced steps he’s taking to help hospitals avoid being overrun with COVID-19 cases. The president plans to make 1,000 troops of medical personnel—including military doctors, nurses and paramedics—available to deploy in January and February to facilities around the country as needed. 

Additionally, Biden announced six emergency response teams with 100 clinical staff members are being sent to six states right now: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. The Biden administration has already deployed about 300 federal medical personnel since learning about Omicron. This week, Biden ordered 60 paramedics to New Hampshire and Vermont, and 20 to Arizona.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be helping coordinate with hospitals and provide access to funds that will allow facilities to expand capacity, Biden said. The federal disaster agency is also ramping up plans to deploy hundreds of ambulances and emergency medical teams as needed. That way, if one hospital fills up, ambulances can transport patients to a facility with beds. So far, the administration has sent 30 ambulances to New York and eight to Maine this week. 

Beyond ambulances, the Biden administration will also make hundreds of federal ventilators available for deployment as needed to various hospitals around the country. Biden is also ramping up vaccinations, with plans to send federal personal to administer vaccines across 12 states, tribes and territories and directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to give pharmacists and pharmacy interns the ability to administer a wider set of vaccinations across state lines.

Despite the challenges ahead with Omicron, Biden said that the U.S. is prepared for what’s coming than in March of 2020. “COVID has been a tough adversary. We’ve shown that we’re tougher tougher because we have the power of science and vaccines prevent illness and save lives,” Biden said.

“We should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked. If you’re fully vaccinated, and especially if you got your booster shot, you are highly protected,” Biden said.

“We all want this to be over, but we’re still in it. This is a critical moment, but we also have more tools than we’ve ever had before. We’re ready, we’ll get through this,” he added.

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