Biden to announce free rapid COVID-19 tests and help for overwhelmed hospitals amid omicron threat


WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is expected to announce Tuesday the purchase of a half-billion, at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and the mobilization of 1,000 military medical personnel to overburdened hospitals in an effort efforts to confront surging COVID-19 infections and the new, highly-transmissible omicron variant.

Building on the winter strategy he outlined earlier this month, Biden wants to ramp up the supply of rapid tests, as shortages have led to long lines and overwhelmed hospitals in hot spots as Americans crisscross the country for the holiday season. An administration official who outlined the plans to reporters declined to say how many free, at-home tests Americans will be able to access through a new website but said they would be delivered through the mail.

The announcement comes as the country, fatigued after nearly two years of pandemic, faces a new stumbling block: Federal health officials announced Monday the omicron variant accounted for 73% of new cases last week, a nearly six-fold increase in the new variant’s share of infections in only one week. Biden will reassure Americans that the administration is prepared for the rising case levels, while issuing a “stark warning” to unvaccinated individuals who continue to drive hospitalizations and deaths, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

“This is not a speech about locking the country down,” Psaki told reporters. The president will announce plans to send six emergency response teams to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont and will stand up new federal testing sites with the first location in New York City this week, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of Biden’s speech.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top coronavirus adviser, said the president will be emphasizing and upscaling some existing policies and detailing new steps. That includes the ongoing push to get people vaccinated, making testing more available, sending surge response teams to states with rising rates, providing vaccines to the rest of the world and making traveling safer.