President Joe Biden on Tuesday addressed the nation about how his administration plans to fight a surge in omicron cases raging around the United States, and he doubled down on his firmest warning yet to unvaccinated Americans about the risk they take by not getting the vaccine.
“How concerned should you be about omicron, which is now the dominant variant in this country and it happened so quickly. The answer is straightforward: If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned,” he said. “Almost everyone who has died in the past many months has been unvaccinated.”
The omicron variant on Monday became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States; federal health officials said the strain made up 73% of new infections last week.
President Biden on Tuesday acknowledged that many vaccinated Americans were likely to test positive for the highly infectious omicron variant, but he emphasized the protection that the vaccines, especially boosters, can offer, especially for those planning to gather with their family before the end of the year.
“Vaccinated people who get COVID may get ill, but they’re protected from severe illness and death. That’s why you should still remain vigilant,” he said. “If you are vaccinated, and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned.”
And he issued a stark warning: “Omicron is serious, potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”
“The unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices,” Biden said, but noted that those choices have been “fueled” by misinformation circulating on social media and cable television.
“These companies and personalities that are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters,” Biden added. “It’s wrong. It’s immoral. I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it. Stop it now.”
Biden gave the speech Tuesday as the nation surpassed a seven-day average of 130,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as new hospitalizations approached 8,000 per day.
But the president was also clear as he announced new steps to aid the country amid the omicron surge: the country is better off than it was last year.
“No, this is not March of 2020,” he said.
Biden announced his administration has purchased 500 million COVID-19 at-home tests to be distributed to Americans free-of-charge come January, when the federal government will launch a website to search for the free tests. When launched, people will be able to order tests for free delivery.
Biden on Tuesday also pointed to his previous actions to fight the virus’s spread, including federal vaccine requirements for health care workers, large companies and federal contractors, though they’ve been so far blocked in court.
He admitted they were not well-liked but said they could be life-saving.
“I know vaccination requirements are not popular,” Biden said. “My administration has put them in place not to control your life but to save your life and the lives of others.”
Last week a Federal court reinstated Biden’s vaccine or test policy for employers with 100 or more employees. Barring any further legal actions, that policy will take effect beginning February 9th.