In an address to the nation today, President Joe Biden outlined his administration’s plans to battle the omicron variant. The federal government plans to purchase 500 million rapid COVID-19 test kits for home use, set up new testing sites, and mobilize 1,000 military medical personnel to pitch in at hospitals slammed by the surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried and frustrated many of you are,” Biden said at the onset of his remarks.
Biden then encouraged vaccine holdouts to take action as omicron spreads across the country. “If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned.” He additionally called on folks who have not received boosters to schedule them.
Biden also promised that the country wouldn’t face another lockout as it did in March 2020, as there are over 200 million Americans who are fully vaccinated.
President Biden is invoking the Defense Production Act to speed up production of the half-billion tests and said the federal government will launch a website for people to request kits to be sent directly to their homes. Distribution of the test kits will not begin until January.
Although it was only spotted in late November, omicron appears to carry mutations that have enabled it to spread rapidly around the globe. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omicron accounted for 73.2 percent of all positive cases in the US during the past week, a massive jump from the week before.
In addition to forcing millions to rethink their holiday plans, omicron has also caused major disruptions in professional sports. The NHL has postponed all games through December 27, while the NBA has had to postpone several games over the past week. The NFL also had to move three games due to team-wide breakouts. In Europe, several soccer and rugby matches were postponed as well.
While it is clear that omicron is more transmissible than previous variants, there is some preliminary data from South Africa showing that adults diagnosed with the variant were 29 percent less likely to be hospitalized.
The usual two-dose mRNA vaccination regimen is not as protective against omicron, either. In a press briefing last week, Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, noted studies showing low levels of neutralizing antibodies for omicron after two jabs. Research carried out so far shows that a third injection with an mRNA vaccine leads to greatly increased protection against the variant, with data from the UK showing 75 percent protection against symptomatic omicron infection after a booster.