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Biden to boost support for hospitals, COVID-19 vaccination and testing

Dec 21, 2021


President Joe Biden announced additional COVID-19 support amid a spread in cases due to the Omicron variant. The video above shows clips from the announcement. The variant first arrived in the United States at the beginning of the month. In the last two weeks, new cases in the U.S. are up 20%, according to the latest COVID-19 numbers from the New York Times.

Biden’s announcement comes a day after the health department in the county that contains Houston, Texas reported what is widely believed to be the first death connected to the Omicron variant in the U.S. According to Harris County Public Health (HCPH), the man was between 50 and 60 years old and unvaccinated. He had been infected with COVID-19 previously, and he had underlying health conditions.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the patient’s family, and we extend our deepest sympathies,” HCPH Executive Barbie Robinson said in a statement. “This is a reminder of the severity of COVID-19 and its variants.”

According to a background press call previewing Biden’s speech, the COVID-19 support Biden announced falls into three main categories:

  • Increasing support for hospitals
  • Increasing access to free testing
  • Expanding vaccination accessibility

To help with hospitals, a senior administration official said Biden is directing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to mobilize 1,000 military medical personnel to deploy to overburdened hospitals in January and February. The White House is also working on making plans to expand hospital capacity.

“The President has asked the FEMA Administrator to activate the National Response Coordination Center and to deploy FEMA planners to assess hospital needs and start to expand that capacity now,” the administration official said. “Additionally, we will pre-position critical supplies and materials needed to shorten timelines to get more hospital beds online and keep staff safe.”

To support COVID-19 testing, the official said more federal testing sites will be set up across the country. Biden is also set to purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests.

“The initial delivery of these tests from the manufacturer will be in January, and we will be setting up a website where Americans can go to get at-home tests delivered to their home for free,” the officials said.

As for vaccination accessibility, the official said “FEMA is standing up new pop-up vaccination clinics” and “deploying hundreds of additional federal vaccinators who will help add thousands of appointments each week.”

Joe Biden, U.S. President: “Starting this week, the federal government will set up emergency testing sites in areas that need additional testing capacity. Before Christmas, the first several of these federal testing sites will be up and running in New York City, with many more to come. This free testing is going to help reduce the waiting lines. The time you have to stand there, and sometimes it’s hours. We’re going to continue to add federal testing sites where needed, so and if you want an immediate test there will be a place where you can go get it. We also need to do better with at-home testing. So I’m announcing today, the federal government will purchase one-half billion, that’s not million, billion with a B, additional at home, rapid tests with delivery starting in January. We’ll be getting these tests to Americans for free. We’ll have websites where you can get them delivered to your home. We’ve arranged for it to be easier for you to find free COVID testing site near you on Google. Just enter ‘covid test near me’ in the Google search bar, and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested. We’re going to continue to use the Defense Production Act, as we did earlier this month, to make sure we’re producing as many tests and as quickly as possible.”

Reporter: “On testing, sir, you said we have to do better. But public health officials have been saying for months you need to surge rapid tests for just this moment. Is it a failure, that you don’t have an adequate amount of tests for everyone to be able to get one if they need one right now?”

Joe Biden, U.S. President: “No, it’s not. Because COVID is spreading so rapidly. If you notice, it just — it just happened almost overnight, just in the last month.”

“All these people who have not been vaccinated, you have an obligation to yourselves, to your family. And quite frankly – I know I’ll be criticized for this – to your country. Get vaccinated now. It’s free. It’s convenient. I promise you, it saves lives. And I honest to God believe it’s your patriotic duty.”

“Over 60 million Americans, including 62 percent of eligible seniors, our most vulnerable group, have gotten their booster shots. I got my booster shot as soon as they were available. And just the other day, former President Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot. It may be one of the few things he and I agree on. People with booster shots are highly protected. Join them. Join us.”

“The unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices, but those choices have and fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media. These companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters. It’s wrong. It’s immoral. I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it. Stop it now. One of the other things that we know that has to be done is more testing. Because omicron spreads easily, especially among the unvaccinated, it’s critically important that we know who’s infected. That means we need more testing. And on that score, we’re now where we should be. Yes, we have over 20,000 free testing sites.”

Reporter: “Sir. And will you reverse the travel ban now that omicron is so prevalent here in the U.S.?”

Joe Biden, U.S. President: “I’m considering reversing it. I’m going to talk with my team in the next couple of days. Look, remember why I said we put the travel ban on. It’s to see how much time we had before it hit here so we can begin to decide what we needed by looking at what’s happening in other countries. But we’re past that now. And so it’s something that is being raised with me by the docs. And I’ll have an answer for that soon.”