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Biden Doubles Free COVID Tests, and Provides Masks to Fight Omicron

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the government will double the number of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests that will be distributed free of charge to Americans, as well as “high-quality masks,” as part of his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Biden also said that 1,000 military medical professionals will be sent around the country starting next week to help overburdened medical institutions cope with staff shortages caused by the highly transmissible omicron form. Six additional military medical teams would be dispatched to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island, he stated at the White House.

Many businesses are struggling because their employees are being quarantined at home because to the virus, which is causing a statewide rise in COVID-19 cases. Other federal medical staff have already been dispatched to states to assist with acute shortages.

As virus instances hit unprecedented heights, Biden said, “I know we’re all frustrated as we begin this new year.” He stressed, though, that it is still a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Although both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons test positive for the virus, Biden pointed out that people who have gotten a vaccination are considerably less likely to experience serious illness or death: “What happens after that could not be more different.”

Biden’s remarks came as his administration’s attention shifts away from stopping the spread of the virus and toward reducing the inconveniences caused by the surge in cases, which is also causing supermarket shortages and aircraft cancellations.

The interim head of the Food and Drug Administration, Janet Woodcock, warned Congress on Tuesday that the highly transmissible strain will infect “most individuals” and that the priority should shift to ensuring that key services can continue uninterrupted.

“I think it’s difficult to absorb what’s actually going on right now, which is that the vast majority of people are going to acquire COVID, all right?” she said. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can continue to operate — that transportation and other critical services are not hampered while this is going on.”

As a response to criticism over test shortages and long lines, Biden said he is directing his staff to treble its procurement of quick COVID-19 tests, which will be provided for free to Americans through a planned federal website. The initial order for 500 million tests was increased to 1 billion at-home testing kits by the federal government.

The first batch of test kits will be available next week, when the government establishes a new website for Americans to request the free testing, according to Biden. The remaining tests will be administered over the course of the next few months.

For the first time, Biden said that his government will make “high-quality masks,” including N95s, which are the most effective in preventing virus transmission, available for free. He stated that his government will provide further information next week.

The White House announced this week that the federal government had a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks. Despite the fact that research has proved that such masks provide superior protection, they are typically more uncomfortable, and health officials are not changing their recommendations to advise against using less-protective cotton masks.

The greatest mask, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “is one that you will wear and can maintain on all day long, that you can endure in public indoor settings.”

Even while he recognized that masks are a “pain in the neck,” Biden advised Americans to use them indoors to help halt the spread of the infection.

“We’ll reveal next week how we’re making high-quality masks free to the American people,” he continued.

Biden was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who just recovered from his own bout of COVID-19, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell during his remarks on Thursday. They were hearing about the more than 800 military people who have been assisting civilian hospitals since Thanksgiving, as well as the more than 15,000 National Guard soldiers whose work supporting immunizations, testing, and patient care is funded by the federal government.

According to the White House, they talked with government employees already on the ground in Arizona, Michigan, and New York to learn about their experiences.

According to Gen. Dan Hokanson, commander of the National Guard Bureau, there are currently 15,200 Guard troops supporting COVID-19 operations around the country as of Thursday.

On Thursday, state guard chiefs from Ohio, New York, and Colorado informed reporters that only vaccinated personnel are used in tasks that directly interface with the public, including as at testing sites and in hospital patient care.

The teams will assist Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, University Hospital in Newark, the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Cleveland Clinic, and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, according to the White House.

According to Bob Riney, president of Healthcare Operations and chief operating officer for Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, the deployment by the Department of Defense will join another team dispatched by the Department of Health and Human Services. He stated that the phases of the activities will be “well synchronized.”

“They’re not overlapping in any way.” He told reporters on Thursday that the two are complimentary.

The first group of medical staff came on Sunday and received training before assisting patients on Monday. They are caring for up to 24 beds and assisting Henry Ford Wyandotte personnel with in-patient care and procedures, according to Riney.

The first phase will go until January 21st, and the second team will stay for another 30 days. “We’re looking at 45 days of comprehensive assistance,” he added, “and that has a lot larger impact.”

“We welcome and appreciate any help we can get,” Riney said, adding that the federal government opted to address the Wyandotte hospital’s needs after the health system presented its current position and statistics to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Cleveland Clinic is “getting government help from a team of around 20 military medical specialists,” according to a spokeswoman.

They are expected to start working at the Clinic’s main campus in Cleveland next week, according to spokeswoman Andrea Pacetti. “We are appreciative for the government funding as we continue to battle a tough COVID-19 increase in our Ohio hospitals,” CEO and President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic said in a statement on Thursday. We can now care for more people in our neighborhood thanks to the arrival of military medical staff.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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