The 500 million new tests will be made available next month and will reach Americans through the mail, the official said. The administration is still working to determine how many tests each household may request.
The new test shipment scheme will come during remarks meant to underscore the White House’s plan to confront what is expected to be a large spike in cases driven by the now-dominant Omicron variant in the coming weeks. Already, cases are rising rapidly in areas around the country and hospitals are nearing capacity.
Among the President’s new 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.
An official said, “God willing” the full 1,000 wouldn’t be needed, “but if we do, they are ready and they’re mobilized.”
Biden hopes to reassure Americans that if they are vaccinated, they can still proceed with their holiday plans without fear of becoming seriously ill. Conversely, he wants to tell those who have not yet received shots of the potential for severe illness or death in the coming months.
“The President will tell the American people if they’re vaccinated and follow the precautions we all know well, especially masking while traveling, they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as they planned,” a senior administration official said ahead of time, previewing a speech that Biden hopes will reassure anxious Americans ahead of the festive season.
By contrast, Biden will warn the tens of millions of Americans who have so far declined to get shots that they run a high risk of becoming ill or hospitalized as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.
Biden will also announce new vaccination sites and increased vaccine access, and will deploy hundreds of additional federal vaccinators who will help add “thousands of appointments each week,” the official said.
Though demand for vaccines has dwindled in recent months, the surge caused by the Delta variant earlier this year did lead to increased demand for vaccinations in some of the hardest hit areas.
Biden will also address FEMA efforts to expand hospital capacity and to pre-position medical supplies in places where stocks may run low in the coming weeks.
The speech, coming just days before Christmas, reflects Biden’s renewed focus on the coronavirus pandemic as anxiety rises around the country at the potential for new restrictions and lockdowns.
Lines for testing centers have stretched for blocks in certain areas, including the northeast, leading the White House to develop plans to open new federal testing sites in New York City before Christmas.
Distributing free at-home tests to all Americans was written off by the White House as recently as this month. Press secretary Jen Psaki scoffed earlier this month when asked if tests should be free and given out, available everywhere.
“Should we just send one to every American?” she asked.
While the White House plan announced Tuesday does not ship test to every American, people would request the tests online instead. Those who utilize them will not have to report their results to public health agencies, officials said.
The administration had already announced a plan requiring health insurance providers to reimburse plan-holders for the cost of at-home tests; that initiative remains in place next year.
In his remarks, he will acknowledge a likely rise in cases — including among vaccinated people — but will emphasize the drastically different outcomes for those with shots and those unprotected by vaccines.
Biden and his team have been adamant that federal lockdown recommendations aren’t in the cards this time. And in his remarks, Biden will focus on steps primarily to forestall a crippling of the US public health system than on efforts to fully stop the spread of the virus.
“He’ll start by acknowledging this is an uncertain time and many Americans have questions — questions about gathering with family, how to be safer and if we’re headed toward lockdown,” the official said.
The President plans to say that “if you’re among the vast majority of Americans who are vaccinated, and especially if you’ve got your booster shot, you have a high degree of protection against severe illness,” the official said.
“Because Omicron spreads rapidly, we will see fully vaccinated people get Covid-19, but vaccinated people who get Covid will likely have no symptoms or mild symptoms,” the official said, previewing Biden’s remarks. “We will also note that if you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting sick. 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.”