politics

Biden administration to distribute 500 million at-home Covid-19 test kits

Biden administration to distribute 500 million at-home Covid-19 test kits

WASHINGTON : The Biden administration will distribute 500 million free at-home Covid-19 testing kits to Americans and take steps to deploy federal medical personnel to overburdened hospitals this winter, as the Omicron variant spreads around the country. President Biden will outline the plan during a speech at the White House on Tuesday. His administration is grappling with how to publicly underscore the urgency surrounding the highly transmissible variant, while seeking to convey that the U.S. is better prepared to battle the pandemic than it was a year ago. Mr. Biden is expected to stress that Americans should take the Omicron variant seriously but shouldn’t panic, according to administration officials. The president will tell vaccinated Americans who are following public health guidelines that they should feel comfortable spending the holidays with their families. Unvaccinated Americans, however, are at much greater risk of hospitalization and death, Mr. Biden will warn, according to the officials, who added that the administration is preparing for cases to keep rising. Even as parts of Europe have returned to previous pandemic-related restrictions including lockdowns and tightening border controls, Mr. Biden is expected to once again rule out the need for shutdowns or other tough measures. “This is not a speech about locking the country down, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. Mr. Biden will announce that he is deploying federal emergency medical response teams to six states: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. He also will instruct Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to prepare to send 1,000 military medical personnel to hospitals in January and February as needed, the officials said. The president will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess the needs of hospitals and start expanding hospital bed capacity. In addition, FEMA will prepare to deploy hundreds of ambulances and medical teams to transport patients to other facilities, if a hospital reaches capacity. The administration has positioned supplies such as masks, gowns and ventilators around the country so they can be quickly sent to states that need them, the officials said. Mr. Biden will announce that the administration is setting up new federal testing sites around the country, with the first opening in New York City this week. The initial delivery of at-home testing kits from the 500 million being purchased by the government will begin in January. The tests will be distributed to the public free by mail through a new website, the officials said. The administration will continue using the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era national security mobilization law, to ensure that the U.S. is producing enough tests to meet soaring demand, according to the officials. Some public health officials have criticized the Biden administration over testing shortages, and on Sunday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the White House to invoke the DPA to make more at-home tests and monoclonal antibody treatments available. Mr. Biden will announce that the administration will expand access to vaccines with pop-up clinics and by helping pharmacies with supply and staffing to administer shots, the officials said. For months, Mr. Biden has framed the lingering health crisis as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated and increasingly voiced frustration with those who have refused to get the vaccine. When announcing his vaccine requirements for large employers this fall, Mr. Biden suggested that those who had chosen not to be vaccinated, despite the summer’s Delta wave, had forced his hand. Faced with Omicron’s rise, Mr. Biden is seeking to once again communicate that the variant’s worst effects will be felt by the unvaccinated. In private briefings with his Covid-19 team, Mr. Biden has told health officials to be direct and transparent with the public about how a winter surge will look for the unvaccinated population, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Mr. Biden said on Thursday that the unvaccinated were “looking at a winter of severe illness and death. His senior health advisers have suggested that vaccinated people, by contrast, need only take extra precautions heading into the holidays but havent discouraged them from carrying on with most daily activities. Still, the accelerating spread of Omicron has put a fatigued nation on edge once again and prompted some local officials to bring back mask mandates and other restrictions. Businesses said the variant was hampering operations and in some cases slowing sales, and professional sports leagues, including the NBA, NFL and NHL, have canceled, postponed or rescheduled games because of Covid-19 outbreaks among players. For schools, the variant threatened to upend in-person instruction for the third consecutive academic year. A handful of colleges and universities reinstated remote learning because of a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases on several campuses, and some public schools have temporarily returned to virtual learning. The Biden administration endorsed on Friday a testing strategy for K-12 students designed to keep children inside classrooms even after exposure to a confirmed Covid-19 case. That decision was the latest sign that the administration is moving away from stricter guidelines, such as mandatory quarantines, and is increasingly focused on how to live with the virus. Earlier in December, the Biden administration tightened testing rules for international travelers and extended a mask mandate for planes and other public transportation. The president temporarily banned non-U. S. citizen travelers from South Africa and seven other southern African countries following the emergence of the Omicron variant. The rise in cases adds to a host of challenges for Mr. Biden, whose approval numbers fell sharply over the summer and have yet to recover. The president is also dealing with supply-chain logjams and inflation and was dealt a blow on Sunday when Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said he wouldn’t support an economic spending plan that is Mr. Biden’s top domestic priority. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, told CNN on Sunday that the Omicron variant is “going to take over and once again overwhelm hospital systems, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. “It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter, Dr. Fauci said. Download.

politics 2021-12-21 Livemint