President Joe Biden will announce today that his administration will distribute 500 million free at-home Covid-19 tests, mobilize military medical personnel if needed and increase vaccination capacity, a senior White House official said Tuesday.
The moves come as the Omicron COVID-19 variant has bypassed the Delta variant as the most dominant variant in the United States. Health officials across the country reported nearly 238,000 cases on Monday, nearing the totals recorded during the deadly surge in August and September.
“We have the tools to get through this wave,” the official said, noting there are no plans to impose new restrictions. If Americans “are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, especially masking when traveling, they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays.”
The first shipment of tests will arrive at some point in January, the White House said. Americans will be able to request that rapid tests be shipped to their home, free of charge, via a new government website.
Biden administration officials had scoffed at the idea of sending free rapid tests to Americans as recently as two weeks ago. On Dec. 6, Jen Psaki, the press secretary, mockingly asked reporters: “Should we just send one to every American?”
“So what happens if all Americans do one test? How much does it cost and what happens after that?”
LIASSON: "Why not make [rapid tests] free, and have them available everywhere?"— David Gura (@davidgura) December 7, 2021
PSAKI: "Should we just send them to every American?"
LIASSON: "All I know is that other countries seem to be making them available in greater quantities for less money." pic.twitter.com/TVonnbrmkj
Previously, the White House’s plan to increase the supply of rapid diagnostics had relied largely on Americans with insurance paying for the test kits out of pocket, then submitting reimbursement claims to their insurer.
Biden will also direct Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to mobilize an additional 1,000 troops to deploy to Covid-hit hospitals during January and February.
Six emergency response teams with more than 100 clinical personnel and paramedics are also deploying to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont immediately.
According to NBC News, the federal government also plans to set up 20,000 new testing sites nationwide, with the first one opening in New York City before Christmas.
“Testing in this country is a lot better than it was. But there’s more to do, and we’re taking action now,” the official said.
President Biden is set to outline these initiatives in an address to the nation on Tuesday afternoon.