The White House says President Biden will deliver a speech Tuesday to announce a plan to distribute 500 million free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests beginning next month, as the administration ramps up attempts to deal with the spread of the omicron variant. The administration says it will set up a website for Americans who want to request a test to be delivered to their homes for free. This would be the second public-facing pandemic-specific website from the Biden administration, which previously built a site to direct people to vaccine providers.
The president’s so-called “winter plan” will also send 1,000 medical military members — including doctors, nurses, and other personnel — to hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients and will set up more free federal testing sites. And the administration says it will deploy hundreds of federal “vaccinators” across 12 states, Tribes, and territories to help “enable thousands of additional appointments over the next few weeks.”
The actions come as the number of new coronavirus cases has exploded due in large part to omicron, a highly infectious variant of the virus; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), omicron is now the dominant strain of the virus in the US. It’s unclear if they’ll be sufficient to make a dent in the virus’ spread — the strain moves so quickly that waiting until next month to start sending out tests likely won’t blunt the initial surge.
Biden also plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the pace of coronavirus test production, and the White House says the Strategic National Stockpile has “hundreds of millions of N-95 masks,” more than 100,000 ventilators, and other personal protective equipment “ready to ship out if and when states need them.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden’s planned speech was not about another lockdown but rather “being directly clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access, increase testing, and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals.”
The administration plans to have new federal testing sites set up before Christmas in New York City.