Biden pledges 500 million free rapid Covid tests to counter Omicron

US President Joe Biden announced 500 million free rapid tests for Americans, increasing support for hospitals under pressure and doubling down on vaccination and bolstering efforts.

In a speech, Biden detailed major changes to his winter plan for Covid-19, and his hand was imposed by the arrival of the rapidly spreading variant, the characteristics of which scientists have not yet fully understood.

Scientists do not yet know for sure how severe the disease Omicron causes, but they do know that vaccination should provide strong protection against severe disease and death.

A cornerstone of the plan is Biden’s decision for the government to purchase 500 million rapid coronavirus tests for free shipping to Americans starting in January.

The White House said people will use a new website to order their tests, which will then be sent via US mail for free.

This represented a major turnaround for Biden, who earlier called on many Americans to buy the hard-to-find tests themselves and then seek reimbursement from their health insurance.

For the first time, the US government will send free Covid-19 tests directly to Americans, more than a year after public health experts urged.

Experts have criticized Biden’s initial buy first, get money later approach as impractical and warn that the United States will face another round of testing problems at a critical time.

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Test advocates point to places like the United Kingdom and Germany, which have distributed billions of tests to the public and recommended that people test themselves twice a week.

Test sites

The federal government will also set up new test sites and use the Defense Production Act to help manufacture more tests.

The first new federally supported testing site will open in New York this week. The new test sites will add to the 20,000 already available.

White House officials said they are working with Google so people can find them by searching for «free Covid test near me.»

However, Biden’s testing increase would fall far short of the levels required for all Americans to test at the recommended twice-weekly rate.

The United States will need 2.3 billion tests per month for everyone age 12 or older to do so, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly five times the half a billion tests Biden will publish.

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Currently, the United States can perform about 600 million tests per month, of which home tests account for about half, according to researchers from Arizona State University.

In another aspect of Biden’s revised plan, he is ready to deploy an additional 1,000 soldiers with medical skills to help hospitals collapse as the virus spreads.

In addition, he is immediately dispatching federal medical personnel to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Vermont. There are also plans to equip ventilators and additional protective equipment from the national stockpile, expanding hospital resources.

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As support, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will deploy hundreds of ambulances and paramedic teams so that if one hospital becomes full, they can transfer patients to open beds at other facilities. Ambulances are already heading to New York and Maine, and paramedics teams are heading to New Hampshire, Vermont and Arizona.

But vaccination remains the main defense, as it can avert disease in the first place. The government will support multiple vaccination sites and provide hundreds of people to administer the vaccines. The new rules will make it easier for pharmacists to work across state lines to administer a wider range of shots.

For those who have already been vaccinated, booster shots have been shown in lab tests to provide strong protection against Omicron.

Although there are frequent reports of breaches, the data shows that vaccinated people who become infected are less likely to develop serious illness leading to hospitalization or death.

To the unvaccinated, Biden plans to issue a stern warning that they are risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

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