UPDATE, 11:04 AM PT: President Joe Biden pledged that the U.S. would fight the Omicron variant “with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” as he unveiled a wide-ranging plan for the coming months.
“We have just two cases here in the United States,” said Biden, a reference to the cases identified in California and Minnesota.
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Even as scientists are still trying to determine the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine against the variant, Biden urged adults to get a booster shot, citing a consensus that those who get the third dose are “more protected than ever from Covid-19.”
Biden said that the strategy “is a plan that I think should unite us. I know Covid-19 has been very divisive in this country. It has become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. It shouldn’t be but it has been. Now as we move into the winter and face the challenges of this new variant, this is a moment where we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope.”
Biden cited a poll that showed that the variant may be changing minds of those who have refused to get vaccinated. “I hope that’s true.”
He also quipped about Anthony Fauci, his chief medical adviser. “I have seen more of Dr. Fauci than I have my wife. We kid each other. Look, who’s president? Fauci.”
PREVIOUSLY: Joe Biden will deliver a speech from the White House later on Thursday in which he will announce a Covid-19 strategy during the winter months, with a resurgence looming following the discovery of the Omicron variant.
Under the plan, all international travelers to the United States will be required to test within one day of departure, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. That is a narrower time frame than the previous three-day requirement. The administration last month implemented vaccination requirements for those coming to the U.S.
Another aspect of the plan will be to expand the availability of at-home testing, with a requirement that insurers reimburse their customers for the cost of at-home tests. The rapid at-home tests also will be distributed to those not insured at community clinics and health centers.
The administration also will make a P.R. push to encourage those who are vaccinated to get booster shots, with expanded availability at pharmacies. The Centers for Disease Control updated its guidance earlier this week to recommend that all adults get boosters.
“This effort will put a special focus on seniors who are the most vulnerable, including seniors from communities of color and seniors from underserved communities,” according to the White House. “The campaign will feature paid advertising across multiple channels, engagement with community organizations, robust stakeholder outreach, and earned media campaigns.”
The administration also announced the extension of a mask requirement on public transportation and air and rail travel through March 18.
A senior administration official told reporters that they are not announcing any new requirements for testing and quarantining after travelers arrive in the U.S., after reports that such a plan was under consideration. “If additional measures are recommended, if additional measures can be implemented well and are effective, we won’t hesitate to take them,” the official said.
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