Dec. 21 (UPI) — With the Omicron variant on the move nationwide, President Joe Biden addressed the country on Tuesday afternoon, announcing changes to his winter COVID-19 plan, including buying an additional 500 million rapid coronavirus tests for use across the country.
Biden and his medical advisers have been monitoring the spread of the Omicron strain, which has quickly become the dominant variant nationwide. There has been at least one death related to the new mutation, in Texas. The mutation is responsible for almost 75% of all new cases across the United States.
The president made the announcement in the White House State Dining Room.
“I know you’re tired. I really mean this, and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it. And this is a critical moment. We also have more tools than we have ever had before. We’re ready. We’ll get through this,” Biden said.
The president outlined how the federal government plans to buy 500 million COVID-19 rapid antigen tests that can be used at home by anyone who wants them.
A new website will make the tests available and be delivered to homes free of charge.
During the remarks, Biden also reinforced that his vaccine mandate has been reinstated by an appeals court. The rules require companies with more than 100 employees to require them to be vaccinated or conduct daily testing.
“The rule is legal and effective, and it’s going to save thousands of American lives,” he said.
Biden also detailed other changes, including new testing sites, greater support for overloaded hospitals and more efforts for vaccination and booster doses.
In an effort to prevent hospitals from becoming overfilled, Biden said the the Defense Department is being directed to prepare an additional 1,000 military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel to be deployed to hospitals in January and February, as needed.
Some 100 federal emergency response teams will be moved to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will assist in expanding bed capacity when needed.
The plan will also include federally funded ambulances to transport patients from hospitals at capacity, to those with empty beds.
Biden said he will consider lifting the travel ban on South Africa and seven other southern African countries. The ban was put in place because of the spread of the Omicron variant.
“I’m considering reversing [the travel ban]. I’m going to talk to my team in the next couple days,” Biden told reporters after the speech.