United States President Joe Biden announced the doubling of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests and the deployment of medical personnel to six hard-hit states as the nation confronts a surge in Omicron variant cases.
In a speech on Thursday, Biden announced that the federal government will double its order of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests which will be distributed free to Americans.
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“In addition to the 500 million that are in the process of being acquired to ship to your homes for free, today I’m directing my team to procure an additional 500 million more tests to distribute for free,” he said.
Biden also announced that starting next week six federal teams made up of more than 120 military medical personnel each would be dispatched to hospitals in six-hard hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island.
The move came amid rising concern – and frustration – about the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant that has overwhelmed medical facilities and caused staff shortages across the US.
“I know we are all frustrated as we enter this new year, the Omicron variant is causing millions of cases and record hospitalisations,” Biden said.
The rising cases have also caused major disruptions and closures in schools all over the US.
In an effort to help keep schools open, the White House on Wednesday announced that five million rapid tests and five million lab-based PCR tests will be made available to schools starting this month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday said that the US is currently seeing a weekly average of more than 750,000 cases per day – a 47 percent increase from a week prior.
Hospitalisations and deaths have also been on the rise. An average of 19,800 people are being admitted to hospital every day due to COVID, a 33 percent increase from a week ago. And daily deaths have increased by 40 percent from last week, at a rate of about 1,600 per day, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing.
“The risk of hospitalisation remains low, especially among people who are up to date on their COVID vaccines,” Walensky said. “However, the staggering rise in cases over one million new cases each day has led to a high number of total hospitalisations,” she said.
In his address on Thursday, Biden reiterated the importance of vaccinations, calling on unvaccinated Americans to get their shots. He also urged Americans to wear well-fitted masks.
“Vaccinations are obviously the most important thing we are doing but they are not the only important thing,” he said.
“Please wear a mask,” Biden said. “I think it’s part of your patriotic duty. It’s not that comfortable, it’s a pain in the neck.”
Biden said his administration was planning to make high-quality N95 masks, which are most effective at preventing transmission of the virus, available for free. He said his administration would announce details next week.