Biden outlines new steps to combat Covid through winter months

President Joe Biden announced a slew of new actions Thursday aimed at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and protecting Americans from the Delta and newly discovered Omicron variants.

In a speech at the National Institutes of Health, Biden detailed the administration’s nine-pronged plan, a day after officials confirmed the first recorded case of the Omicron variant in the United States, in California.

“It’s the combined advice from all of you that we developed this plan, and it doesn’t involve shutdowns or lockdowns but widespread vaccinations, and boosters, and testing and a lot more,” Biden said.

Building on new travel restrictions from regions affected by the spread of the Omicron variant earlier this week, Biden announced new steps tightening pre-departure Covid-testing protocol for all inbound international travelers, requiring a negative test within one day of departure for the United States.

At this time, any foreign national who travels to the US must be fully vaccinated, though there remains no vaccination requirement for American citizens traveling via air, either globally or domestically.

The administration had earlier formally announced its plan to extend a mask requirement for domestic travel, originally slated to expire in January, until mid-March. The order, which had already been extended this summer, applies to travel via rail and other public transportation, and comes amid widespread reports of unruly passengers refusing to comply with mask mandates.

Under the plan, the administration is increasing vaccine outreach, including efforts — in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, AARP and Medicare — to ensure an estimated 100 million Americans eligible for Covid-19 vaccine boosters get shots as soon as possible, including the launching of a nationwide public education campaign, town halls and offers of rides to vaccine and booster appointments for the nation’s “hardest-hit and highest risk older Americans.”

The administration will also unveil steps aimed at increasing vaccination rates among children in an effort to keep schools open and protect children ages 5 and up from contracting Covid-19.

“To date, we have already vaccinated over 4 million 5- to 11-year-olds and 15 million adolescents. Vaccinating our kids protects them, keeps schools open, and protects everyone around them,” the White House detailed in a fact sheet shared with reporters Wednesday.

As part of those efforts, the administration will launch “family vaccination clinics” aimed at offering vaccines and boosters for entire families at once, with the Health Resources and Services Administration offering “Family Vaccination Days” at participating community health centers across the country and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offering mobile vaccination clinics to reach hard-to-reach communities. The administration is also issuing a “Safe School Checklist” so schools can safely encourage vaccination and booster efforts and avoid outbreaks in schools through new guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on quarantining and testing.

Biden announced further actions to export vaccines, including 200 million more doses in the next 100 days, accelerating delivery to high-risk countries, while ramping up vaccine manufacturing to increase global production capacity.

The President’s announcement will also detail new steps to increase Covid testing, including the news that private insurers will be required to reimburse the costs of at-home tests for more than 150 million Americans covered by private insurance. In addition, community sites like health centers and rural clinics will offer free at-home tests for those not covered by private insurance, doubling a September pledge to offer 25 million free tests to community sites to 50 million tests.

The President announced more than 60 winter Covid emergency response team deployments available to states to combat outbreaks and rising Covid-19 cases nationally, expanding a program from the summer and fall.

“Response teams have helped 27 states and two territories respond to the Delta surge by addressing critical needs on the ground,” the senior administration official told reporters Wednesday.

“To date, we have deployed over 2,000 personnel, surged over 3,200 ventilators and other supplies, and shipped over 2.3 million courses of the lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments. As we face the new variants and rising cases during the winter months tomorrow, the President will renew the federal government’s commitment help with surges and help our states,” the official added.

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