Coronavirus Update: President Joe Biden makes rapid home tests free in new COVID plan

WASHINGTON – As cases increase in the colder months and amid fears of a new COVID-19 variant, President Joe Biden announced plans on Thursday for a winter coronavirus strategy that includes making rapid home tests free, expanding mask requirements on public transport, and requiring more stringent testing procedures for all international travelers.

The latest plan does not include more aggressive measures such as requiring checks on domestic flights or mandating checks on passengers after they arrive in the US.

To enable free rapid tests, senior management officials say more than 150 million Americans with private insurance will be able to file reimbursements with their insurers through the same a rule that allows on-site inspections to be covered by insurance.

To reach uninsured Americans and those on Medicare or Medicaid, the Biden administration will send 50 million home tests to 20,000 federal sites around the country for free distribution.

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury will issue guidance by January 15 to determine exactly how many tests will be covered and how often, the plan said, and it will not include previously purchased tests.

Senior administration officials said they believe in providing rapid tests to meet a possible need among Americans, who can currently get them for free.

“Supply will quadruple this month from where it was at the end of summer, so we’re doing a lot to ramp up all the tests, but especially with a big focus on ramping up the tests. at this house,” said a senior government official. a call with reporters on Wednesday night.

The expansion of mask regulations to public transport, including planes, rails and buses, will take effect from March 18, under the plan and stricter requirements for with travel into the United States going into effect early next week.

The new travel rules require proof of a negative COVID test within one day of travel to the United States for all passengers, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality.

The plan also puts a lot of emphasis on increased firing, which has already seen sluggish sales in the US but experts call for increased protection in the face of the new omicron variant and its many unknowns.

Under the plan, pharmacies will expand the locations and hours to give booster shots through December, and the Biden administration will ramp up outreach efforts through a public education campaign aimed at people. elderly and new family immunization clinics can be one-stop centers for children. vaccines, adult vaccines and booster shots.

Biden also raised the possibility that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would no longer recommend isolating students for 14 days after exposure, relying instead on a popular “test to stay” policy for allow children to continue attending school as long as they test negative every day.

“CDC has been working on isolation and testing approaches, including looking at the science and data on how they can keep the school community safe. CDC will release the results of the study. them about these methods in the coming weeks,” according to the plan.

Collectively, the new strategy comes as cases continue to rise, a combination of colder weather pushes people to stay indoors, and vaccine immunity declines in those already vaccinated. vaccinated more than six months ago and have not had a booster shot.
There are also new concerns about the omicron, which has more mutations than previous variants but remains largely a mystery – from its transmissibility to its ability to cause more severe disease or evade vaccines.

On Monday, Biden reassured Americans that his administration is taking every precaution to protect the public from the omicron variation and that he does not expect this to be “the new normal.”

“It’s a new variant that is cause for concern, but not cause for panic,” the president said. “And we will fight this with science and speed. We will not fight it with chaos and confusion, and we believe we can deal with it.”

The authorities’ ban on travel to eight countries in southern Africa came into effect this week after the variant was first detected in Botswana. Since then, it has been found in nearly 30 countries, including in the US on Wednesday.

Over the past year, Biden has focused his efforts to beat COVID on ramping up vaccinations and testing.

As the country fell short of its goal of 70% of all adults being vaccinated with at least one shot by July, and as cases spiked again from the emergence of the delta variant in the summer, Biden continued to do so. perform vaccination duties.

Although the mandates are said to apply to all federal government employees, healthcare workers, and employees of large private companies, the implementation has been hit with lawsuits and deadlines. loose.

The mandate for government employees was originally supposed to be carried out by the end of November, but the government delayed firing employees who failed to comply until after the holiday.

However, 92% of federal employees had taken their first dose as of last week.

The mandates for healthcare workers and employees of large companies have faced legal challenges that put them on hold until a decision in higher courts later in winter. this.

But many hospitals and companies have taken up the task on their own, often with success.

The nation’s public health experts have continued to see vaccines and boosters as the best protection against this variant, even as they await more data.

“We don’t know everything we need to know about omicron variants, but we do know that vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from serious illness and complications from all known SARS-CoV-2 variants. Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday, 71% of adults over the age of 18 and nearly 60% of the entire US population are now fully immunized. Nearly 100 million adults who qualify for boosters have yet to receive them.

Reminiscing about the past year, Biden said on Monday, “we’re in a very different place” as we head into December, noting that vaccinations have only just rolled out and most schools are still closed. 2020.

“Last Christmas, our children were at risk without vaccines. This Christmas we have safe and effective vaccines for children 5 years of age and older, with more than 19 million children. children and have been vaccinated so far,” Biden said.

Copyright © 2021 ABC News Internet Ventures. Coronavirus Update: President Joe Biden makes rapid home tests free in new COVID plan

Dais Johnston

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