December 21, 2021 – As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus flares up across the United States, President Joe Biden on Tuesday offered to reassure Americans who have followed public health guidelines to vaccinate and step up, and issued a stern warning to those who are not.
“Because Omicron spreads so easily, we will see that some fully vaccinated people get COVID. Potentially in large numbers, “said the president. “It is unlikely that these cases will lead to serious illness. Vaccinated people who get COVID can get sick, but they are protected from serious illness and death. ”
But he said the nation has not returned to the beginning with COVID-19.
“This is not March 2020,” he said.
With a warning, Biden outlined plans to help the nation respond to Omicron, including the purchase of 500 million rapid tests for home use and military assistance to stressed hospitals.
He said vaccinated people should keep their plans to celebrate the holidays, especially if they are celebrating with other vaccinated people.
But he warned an estimated 40 million Americans are eligible who remain unvaccinated.
“Omicron is a serious and perhaps deadly job for unvaccinated people,” Biden said. “Some of you will get very sick.”
He said hospitals would continue to be under dangerous stress, both in terms of equipment and staff.
To alleviate staff shortages, Biden said he has deployed six emergency teams, including clinic staff and paramedics, to six states: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.
It will also send 1,000 military doctors and nurses to overcrowded facilities to ease requests. It also activates the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Response Coordination Center for planning and logistics assistance. He said critical supplies such as fans, masks, dresses and gloves would also be offered.
Hospital representatives welcomed the help.
“Today’s announcement by the Biden administration to deploy additional medical staff to COVID-laden hospitals and new mass vaccination sites across the country will help ease some of the burden on an already overburdened healthcare workforce,” said Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association. .
Harmon called on everyone who qualifies to be vaccinated and stepped up to further ease the tension.
“We continue to urge management to use all available tools at its disposal and leave no resources or support aside,” Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said in a written statement.
From week to week, the number of cases of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant is growing. Estimates The CDC shows that Omicron caused approximately 13% of cases in the week ending December 11th. By Tuesday, Omicron had caused about 74% of cases.
“I have been working in infectious diseases for 30 years. I have NEVER seen anything like the speed of Omicron, ”said former CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD. posted on Twitter.
For the original coronavirus, the baseline reproduction rate – the average number of people infected as contact with one case – was 2.5. For the Delta variant, that number climbed to about 7. The basic reproduction rate of Omicron can be up to 10.
Biden admitted on Tuesday that the nation was caught unprepared.
“I don’t think anyone expected this to spread as quickly as it happened,” he said.
He admitted that tests and testing services are lacking.
“Suddenly, it was as if everyone was rushing to the counter. It was a big, big rush, “he said.
He promised that more tests would be on the way. He said new testing sites will open in high-demand areas like New York, where people wait in line for hours for testing.
Biden announced he would continue to use the Defense Manufacturing Act to ease supply constraints for tests on COVID-19, buying 500 million tests to be sent to Americans for free through a new website, which has not yet been launched.
Most of the details about who can get free tests and how many can get them at once are still being worked out, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing before the president’s speech.
Public policy experts welcomed the announcement.
“The U.S. is a little behind in terms of not only conducting tests, but also shifting testing technology compared to European countries,” said Dr. Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health policy and management at Milken University’s George Washington School of Public Health.
The 500 million additional tests announced on Tuesday are an additional step, beyond the promise given in Biden’s winter plan, that private insurers will cover the cost of tests at home.
“This seems like a big step forward,” Levi said. “It remains to be seen whether this production capacity can be met.”