I know that Americans are exhausted from COVID-19 and want to know when it will end, and the new variant is adding to that unease. I get it.
I pledged to always be straight with the American people and tell you the truth. Here’s the truth about the new omicron variant: While it is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic. Experts say that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead this winter, and that we will see more omicron cases here in the United States in the days, weeks and months ahead. Our best scientists and doctors are on the case and gathering data, but early indications are that our vaccines will provide a measure of protection against this strain. We have the tools to protect ourselves and battle this virus, and I’m laying out a plan to do just that this winter.
We are going to fight COVID-19 not with shutdowns or lockdowns – but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more. We will beat it back with science and speed, not chaos and confusion – just as we did in the spring and again with the more powerful delta variant in the summer and fall.
There are six key actions in my plan for this winter.
Boosters, testing at the forefront
►All adults should get a booster shot six months after they got vaccinated (or two months after, if you were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson). Right now, most adults in this country who are eligible for boosters still have not gotten their booster shot. We are expanding our nationwide booster campaign with more appointments, more hours – including nights and weekends – and more walk-ins. To spread the word, pharmacies will send millions of texts and emails to remind their customers. My administration will also contact the more than 60 million people on Medicare. And, to reach their 38 million members, we’ll join town halls and events hosted by AARP, which is also offering seniors free rides to boosters.
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►We are expanding our efforts to vaccinate children ages 5 and up and keep our schools open. To replace the mass vaccination sites for adults we had earlier in the year with a more comfortable setting for families and children, we will launch hundreds of new family vaccination clinics to make it easier for children, parents and whole families to get vaccinated in one place. These sites will be at community health centers and other trusted locations – and even some mobile sites to reach hard to reach communities.
Today, over 99% of schools are open, and we need to make sure we keep it that way this winter. While vaccinating our kids is critical to keeping our schools open, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also reviewing new approaches to keep our children in school instead of quarantining at home.
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►We are making free at-home tests available. Thanks to our actions, there are now at least eight at-home testing options available. Prices for these tests are decreasing. But it’s not enough. My administration is requiring that health insurers cover the cost of at-home testing. If you are one of the 150 million Americans on private health insurance, at-home tests will be covered by your insurance. And, if you’re not covered by private insurance, we will make free tests available for pickup at thousands of sites nationwide.
Medical initiatives part of plan, too
►We will increase “Surge Response Teams” – the doctors, nurses, and medical staff that go into communities with rising cases and help overburdened hospitals. Since summer, we have worked with Republican and Democratic governors to deploy Surge Response Teams in response to the delta variant. These teams worked in communities struggling with surges, and we’ll more than double the number of teams this winter.
►We are increasing the availability of new medicines, including monoclonal antibody treatments that have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization. We also may soon have promising new antiviral pills that could help prevent hospitalization and death of people infected by COVID-19. If approved, we will ensure that these new medicines are available in the hardest-hit communities.
►In order to beat this pandemic at home, we have to beat this pandemic globally. COVID-19 and the delta and omicron variants have all emerged in other parts of the world before coming here. We must vaccinate the world and strengthen international travel rules for people coming into the U.S. We have already shipped for free 280 million vaccines – more vaccines to other countries than all other countries combined. We will accelerate the delivery of more vaccines – 200 million more doses in the next 100 days. And, all international travelers entering the U.S. must test within one day of departure. This tighter testing timeline will help slow the spread of the virus.
We’ve been doing everything we can to beat this virus. And, that’s what we have to keep doing. We can and we must come together as a nation to fight this virus, to protect one another, to protect our economic recovery. We moved forward in the face of COVID-19 and the delta variant. And, we will move forward now at the start of winter and in the face of the omicron variant – together.
Joe Biden is the 46th president of the United States.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Biden: My winter plan to fight COVID without lockdowns