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President Biden lays out plan to curb omicron surge

President Joe Biden has announced plans to stop the spread of the omicron variant, including plans to purchase a half-billion at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests that will be mailed to Americans who request them via a website, the White House said in a news release early Tuesday.

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On Tuesday, Biden reiterated that people who are vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 that they “have much, much less reason to worry” and that if you’re vaccinated you should feel comfortable celebrating the holidays as you had planned.

A cornerstone of the plan is Biden’s decision for the government to purchase 500 million coronavirus rapid tests and ship them free to Americans starting in January. People will use a new website to order their tests, which will then be sent to them by U.S. mail at no charge, the White House said.

READ: 9 things to know about the COVID-19 omicron variant

It marks a major shift for Biden, who earlier had called for many Americans to purchase the hard-to-find tests on their own and then seek reimbursement from their health insurance. For the first time, the U.S. government will send free COVID-19 tests directly to Americans, after more than a year of urging by public health experts.

Experts had criticized Biden’s initial buy-first, get-paid-later approach as unwieldy and warned that the U.S. would face another round of problems with testing at a critical time. Testing advocates point to countries like the U.K. and Germany, which have distributed billions of tests to the public and recommend people test themselves twice a week.

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The federal government will also establish new testing sites and use the Defense Production Act to help manufacture more tests. The first new federally supported testing site will open in New York this week. The new testing sites will add to 20,000 already available. White House officials said they’re working with Google so that people will be able to find them by searching “free COVID test near me.”

Still, Biden’s testing surge would fall far short of the levels needed for all Americans to test at the recommended rate of twice weekly. The U.S. would need 2.3 billion tests per month for everyone 12 and older to do that, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly five times more than the half-billion tests Biden will deploy.

READ: Omicron now dominant US coronavirus strain, CDC says

Currently, the U.S. can conduct about 600 million tests per month, with home tests accounting for about half, according to researchers from Arizona State University.

In another prong to Biden’s amped-up plan, he is prepared to deploy an additional 1,000 troops with medical skills to assist hospitals buckling under the virus surge. Additionally, he is immediately sending federal medical personnel to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. There are also plans to ready additional ventilators and protective equipment from the national stockpile, expanding hospital resources.

READ: COVID-19 positivity rate has tripled at AdventHealth urgent care clinics, doctors say

As a backstop, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will deploy hundreds of ambulances and paramedic teams so that if one hospital fills up, they can transport patients to open beds in other facilities. Ambulances are already headed to New York and Maine, and paramedic teams are going to New Hampshire, Vermont and Arizona.

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