US President Joe Biden‘s administration has laid out a new national blueprint to combat COVID-19, including any possible future outbreaks of new variants, without shutting down schools and businesses.
The White House on Wednesday called on US lawmakers to approve the plan, which requires additional funding from Congress to pay for coronavirus treatment and testing, saying many of the initiatives cannot be carried out without more investment.
“We look to a future when Americans no longer fear lockdowns, shutdowns, and our kids not going to school. It’s a future when the country relies on the powerful layers of protection we have built and invests in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus,” the updated National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan said.
It said the additional funding would help restock the nation’s stockpile of tests, antiviral pills and masks; strengthen data collection and monitoring capabilities to detect emerging variants, and boost vaccine manufacturing capacity, among other needs.
The new plan comes one day after Biden acknowledged the US fight against the coronavirus had entered a new phase, saying the nation must shift with infections declining and various precautions easing two years after COVID-19 shut down large swaths of the country.
But he cautioned against complacency towards the disease, which experts have said could still surge again with new variants. “We will never just accept living with COVID-19,” Biden said in his State of the Union speech to Congress.
“We will continue to combat the virus as we do other diseases. And because this is a virus that mutates and spreads, we will stay on guard,” he said.
But Biden noted that most of the country can now be maskless, after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday dramatically eased its guidelines for masks, including in schools. The move meant almost 72 percent of the population resided in communities where indoor face coverings are no longer recommended.
On Wednesday, the US military said it is no longer requiring masks indoors at the Pentagon.
A day earlier, the White House lifted a requirement for fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks on its campus, but it added that testing, providing vaccination information, and other COVID-19 protocols remain in place.
Most Americans are vaccinated and more vaccines are available if needed. Schools are open and workers can return to offices. “COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,” Biden said on Tuesday evening.