As COVID-19 once surges across the U.S. due to the highly contagious omicron variant, President Biden is set to announce new mitigation measures on Tuesday afternoon. This includes a plan to make half a billion at-home Covid tests available to any American who requests one, with deliveries beginning in January.
A senior White House official told reporters that Biden's speech is set for 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, and viewers can expect the president to address the hospital crisis and how to expand vaccination efforts across the country.
In January, the government will run a website where people can order at-home Covid tests to be delivered for free. The Defense Production Act will still be in place to make sure the U.S. is producing as many tests as quickly as possible.
Over the weekend, test sites across the U.S.—most notably in New York City—were overwhelmed with thousands of people needing tests before the holidays as omicron cases continue to spike. The wait at a testing and vaccination center in Times Square on Saturday afternoon was approximately three hours.
While making 500 million at-home Covid tests available is, inarguably, a necessary and welcome measure, experts warn that even that many tests aren't enough to mitigate the spread.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, the executive associate dean of the Emory School of Medicine & Grady Health System, calls the move "a step in the right direction," but says it could fall short. Dr. Rio also believes the U.S. needs a nationwide mask mandate, per NPR.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, also doesn't believe 500 million tests will be enough. "Half a billion, though impressive-sounding, does not come even close to what's needed," she tells NPR.
She says the Biden administration needs to provide enough tests "for all American families to be able to test twice a week, every week."
The President will also announce that FEMA will operate new pop-up vaccination clinics across the country and other proactive medical measures in an effort to help already overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare workers.
Among the new pandemic initiatives is a plan to prepare 1,000 military service members to deploy to overburdened hospitals across the country in January and February, administration officials said. Those service members will include doctors, nurses, medics and other military medical personnel. The administration is hopeful that the full 1,000 won't be needed—but they are ready to go if so.
The plan to distribute Covid tests to Americans wasn't on the White House agenda as of last week when Press Secretary Jen Psaki scoffed at the idea after a reporter inquired about the need for more tests.
"Should we just send one to every American?" she asked earlier this month. The administration has clearly changed course on the matter as cases continue to rapidly rise.
During Tuesday's address, President Biden will also reiterate the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted, noting that those who are will have a high degree of protection against the illness.
"We will also note that if you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting sick," the administration official tells CNN. "This variant is highly transmissible, and the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from Covid."
The official also says the president plans to make it clear that vaccinated people who contract Covid because of the new variant will likely only develop mild symptoms or none at all.
"They should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as they planned," the administration official said, reminding everyone to take regular precautions like wearing masks during travel.