Biden, Covid-19 Vaccines and Omicron: Live Updates

credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said Thursday he was directing his staff to purchase an additional 500 million coronavirus tests to distribute to Americans, doubling previous government purchases as his administration seeks to respond to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The announcement, which came when Biden made remarks about the pandemic, brings the total number of tests that will be given for free to one billion.

“That would mean 1 billion tests in total to meet future demand,” Biden said. “And we will continue to work with retailers and online retailers to increase availability.”

But it is unclear when the tests will be available. Biden announced the first batch of 500 million tests just before Christmas, and delivery of the first batch of that announcement won’t begin until later this month, according to White House officials. Details of how Americans will order these tests, including a government-run testing site, are due to be revealed on Friday.

The president did not say when the new batch of 500 million tests would be manufactured and ready for distribution. But he said at-home tests – along with more than 20,000 testing sites across the country – would help meet rising demand as people try to continue work, school and social life despite the rapid spread of the virus.

“We are on our way to launch a website next week where you can order a free test that is shipped to your home,” he said, adding that people with medical insurance can also get reimbursed soon for buying up to eight tests a month.

Biden said his administration will also announce a plan next week to ensure Americans have access to high-quality masks. Experts said KN95 and N95 masks protect better against the Omicron variant than more common cloth or surgical masks.

He did not mention any details about this effort during his statements.

The announcement of the tests comes as the president also announced Thursday that the administration will send a total of 120 military medical personnel to six states, beginning to deploy 1,000 service personnel to help hospitals deal with an increase in cases from the Omicron variant. White House officials said.

Biden, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, and Dean Cresswell, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, appeared at the White House to detail teams going to hard-hit communities across the country. Biden said late last month that the military would have to help hospitals in early January.

The president said new teams of doctors, nurses and other medical staff will begin arriving at hospitals in Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island, in order to help triage patients arriving at hospitals, allowing staff shortages to exist. Emergency partitions to free up space.

The deployments are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to address the latest wave of cases caused by the highly contagious variant Omicron. And with the number of new cases rising, it has reached more than 780,000 cases per day across the country. The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has reached a record high of about 142,000.

For Biden, the inability to control the pandemic has helped lower his approval ratings as he enters his second year in office. His aides are intent on making their efforts to deal with the virus public.

Since Thanksgiving, when Omicron was first discovered in South Africa, the administration has dispatched more than 800 military and emergency personnel to 24 states, tribes and territories, not counting the individuals Biden announced Thursday, officials said.

In addition, more than 14,000 National Guard personnel in 49 states have been activated to assist hospitals with vaccinations, testing and other medical services, officials said. The deployments were paid for by the American Bailout, a law that Mr. Biden championed at the start of his tenure.

“To the military medical teams on the ground, thank you for all you’re doing,” the chief said.

Officials said more military medical personnel are likely to be deployed in the coming days as the country continues to struggle with the pandemic.

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