“This is not March 2020 … we’re prepared. We know more,” Biden said. “I know you’re tired … I know you’re frustrated,” he said, adding that “this is a critical moment.”
The federal government, he said, will set up additional COVID-19 free testing sites, starting in New York City. Biden also said his administration will purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests and deliver them by mail starting in January for free.
“I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. The answer is yes, you can, if you and those who celebrate are vaccinated,” Biden added, although a federal health official said Omicron can break through antibodies from initial COVID-19 vaccines. “Particularly if you’ve gotten your booster shot.”
So far, the Omicron variant has been blamed for the death of at least one person in the United States. Earlier this week, officials in Houston, Texas, said that a man died with the variant, while officials in the United Kingdom said that about a half-dozen people may have died from Omicron.
South Africa’s Ministry of Health said last week that Omicron hospitalizations are one-tenth that of hospitalizations experienced during previous COVID-19 waves in the country. And New York City’s chief medical officer confirmed that Omicron hospitalizations are a fraction of that seen in prior surges.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that Omicron made up 73 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States last week, overtaking the Delta variant. The new strain has been detected in most states and territories, the agency confirmed on Tuesday.
The CDC’s estimates are based on tens of thousands of coronavirus specimens that are collected each week through university laboratories, commercial laboratories, and state and local health agencies. Scientists then analyze the gene sequences to determine which of the COVID-19 variants are most common.
A “national surge” in omicron COVID-19 cases will likely occur in the coming weeks—possibly starting in January, the CDC also predicted. The agency used synthesis of various scenario models that were conducted by the U.S. government as well as academic partners, although previous COVID-19 scenario models have been criticized as inaccurate.
Earlier on Tuesday, the White House confirmed it would send 1,000 members of the military such as military doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel to hospitals starting in January and in February.
Six emergency response teams, meanwhile, with more than 100 staff members are also being sent to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Vermont, according to the White House.
“This is on top of the 300 federal medical personnel that we have deployed since we learned about Omicron,” said the news release.