President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with the most protective N95 masks, as he highlighted his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.
Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.
Speaking at the White House Thursday, Biden acknowledged that, “I know we're all frustrated as we enter this new year" as virus cases reach new heights. But he insisted that it remains “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people test positive for the virus, but Biden noted medical figures showing that people are far less likely to suffer serious illness and death if they've received a shot: “What happens after that could not be more different.”
Biden's comments come as his administration's focus is shifting to easing disruptions from the spike in cases that is also contributing to grocery shortages and flight cancellations, rather than preventing the transmission of the virus.
On Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, told Congress that the highly transmissible strain will infect «most people» and that the focus should turn to ensuring critical services can continue uninterrupted.
"I think it's hard to process what's actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?" she said.
"What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens."
And though research has shown those masks to be better protection, they are often more uncomfortable, and health officials are not altering their guidance to recommend against less-protective cloth masks.
The best mask "is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings," Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.
Biden encouraged Americans to wear masks when indoors to slow the spread of the virus, even as he acknowledged they're a "pain in the neck" During Thursday's remarks Biden was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recently recovered from his own case of COVID-19, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
They're complementary,» he told reporters Thursday.
The first team of medical personnel arrived Sunday and went through an orientation before helping patients on Monday. They are providing care for up to 24 beds and supporting staff at Henry Ford Wyandotte with in-patient care and surgeries, Riney said.
The first phase is through January 21 and the second team will come for an additional 30 days.
"We are looking at 45 days of total support and that has a much more meaningful impact," he said.