Biden to announce support for hospitals, access to free COVID tests, vaccine availability amid omicron surge

Dr. Siegel urges Biden to focus on tools to fight COVID fear

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel argues against a return to shutdowns amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

President Biden is set to address the nation Tuesday afternoon to lay out his administration’s strategy to fight COVID-19 as the new omicron variant rages throughout the nation.

The president is set to deliver remarks just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that omicron variant is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States, making up 73.2% of new infections in the week that ended Dec.18—up from just 12.6% the prior week.

Across the country, schools are beginning to shift to remote learning, restaurants are closing their doors to the public, and events are once again being canceled as a result of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus. Broadway shows in New York City have been canceled, along with the Rockettes’ “Christmas Spectacular” shows. The National Hockey League also announced a pause to its season. 

Amid the surge in new cases, senior administration officials said the president on Tuesday will announce three steps to build on his previously announced winter plan—including increased support for hospitals, access to free tests and expanded capacity to get Americans vaccinated.

As for increased support for hospitals, officials said the administration will ensure that states and hospitals across the country have the personnel, the beds, and the supplies they need as they battle rising omicron cases.

A man receives a nasal swab COVID-19 test at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport amid a coronavirus surge in Southern California on December 22, 2020. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As part of this effort, the president is set to direct Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to mobilize 1,000 members of the military to deploy to overburdened hospitals in January and February in an effort to increase hospital capacity, and to provide critical supplies and materials needed to get more hospital beds online.

The president is also expected to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to activate the National Response Coordination Center and to deploy FEMA planners to assess hospital needs.

FILE: President Joe Biden speaks about omicron earlier this month during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Officials touted the “hundreds of millions of high-quality masks, billions of gloves, and thousands of ventilators” available across the United States, noting that if one hospital “runs out,” officials “can get those supplies to spaces that need them immediately.”

The president is also set to announce expanded access to testing, with the administration setting up new federal testing sites across the nation.

Officials said the Biden administration will purchase half a billion rapid tests to be distributed to Americans—free of charge—and will set up a website where Americans can get an at-home COVID-19 test delivered for free. Officials said that system will be set up in January.

Officials said that testing in the United States is “a lot better than it was,” but admitted that “there’s more to do.”

“We’re taking action now,” one official said.

The president is also expected to announce expanded efforts to get Americans vaccinated—citing COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses as a critical tool to protect against severe illness.

Officials said FEMA is set to create pop-up vaccination clinics, and deploy hundreds of additional federal vaccinators who will help add thousands of appointments for vaccines each week. Officials said pharmacies nationwide are also adding appointments and capacity across their networks.

President Biden previewed his remarks Monday night, sharing with the public “a sense of where we are and what we know” on the omicron variant.

“We know that vaccines are working. If you are boosted with Pfizer or Moderna, you have a high degree of protection against severe illness with omicron,” Biden tweeted. “If you’re an adult choosing to be unvaccinated, you will face an extremely difficult winter for your family and community.”

The president also warned that “omicron cases will increase in the coming days—even among fully vaccinated individuals.”

“If you’re vaccinated and boosted, you may still get a breakthrough case but doctors say you will likely have no symptoms or mild ones,” Biden tweeted, adding that the public needs to “take precautions and remain vigilant.”

“Listen to the advice from doctors: even if you’re fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask when indoors in a public setting,” Biden tweeted. “It will help protect you and others—especially kids under 5 who can’t get vaccinated yet.”

The president went on to thank frontline workers for their work “after a painful and difficult two years,” saying the nation owes them “a tremendous debt.”

“I am once again asking for your strength, and I’ll never forget it,” he tweeted, urging Americans to “get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask.”

He added: “And keep the faith.”

Biden’s address also comes after he had “close contact” with a White House staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday evening said that the “mid-level staff member, who does not regularly have contact with the president, received a positive result for a COVID-19 test.”

Psaki, though, noted that staffer had spent “approximately 30 minutes in proximity to the President on Air Force One” on the way from South Carolina to Pennsylvania three days ago.

Psaki said the president is “tested on a regular basis,” and tested negative in an antigen test on Sunday. Biden received a PCR test Monday morning and tested negative, and will be tested again on Wednesday, Psaki added.

“Others on Air Force One who were in close contact with this staff member are being contacted and will be advised to get tested per CDC guidance,” she added.

The White House revealed that the staff member who tested positive “is fully vaccinated and boosted, and tested negative prior to boarding Air Force One, as is required for everyone traveling with the President. This staff member did not begin to experience symptoms until Sunday, and was tested on Monday.”

The White House also insisted that Biden does not need to quarantine.

Meanwhile, Texas officials reported that an unvaccinated man in his 50s with underlying health conditions is believed to have been the first American to die from the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Omicron has been reported in nearly every state, and accounts for about 90% of new COVID infections in some areas of the country, such as New York, the Southeast, and the Pacific Northwest.

The omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa less than a month ago and the World Health Organization declared it a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. 

It’s unclear if omicron will cause more or less severe illness, but the CDC says “it likely will spread more easily than” previous variants. 

Current vaccines are likely to protect against severe illness and death from omicron, but breakthrough infections are likely in people who are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. 

Booster shots may help fend off the new variant. Moderna announced Monday that a half-dose booster shot increased the level of neutralizing antibodies by 37 fold. A full-dose booster caused an 83-fold increase in antibodies. 

Fox News’ Paul Best contributed to this report. 

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