The Biden administration is opening additional federally run free Covid-19 testing sites this week in six states across the country — Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Delaware, Texas and Washington — as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to surge in the US.
“We have the tools we need to manage the surge in Omicron cases,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Wednesday, citing vaccinations and boosters, funding from the Covid relief package to help schools implement prevention measures and federal support for treatment and prevention.
The Biden administration, Zients said, “is deploying every available measure to help states communities and hospitals confront this Omicron challenge. Military doctors, nurses, and EMTs are now in place assisting local hospital staff and states across the country, with additional teams ready to deploy as needed.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that thousands of free tests are being provided daily in mobile federal testing sites in New York and New Jersey. She said the 12 testing sites in New York City have processed more than 8,700 tests since the first site launched in late December.
“These sites have been effective in reaching a diverse set of communities, with 76% of those tested in New York City and 82% of those in New Jersey self-identifying as non-White,” Psaki said.
A White House official told CNN Wednesday that 13,546 National Guard personnel are currently deployed to support Covid-19 efforts, including approximately 700 medical personnel.
The administration has shipped 2.4 million pieces of personal protective equipment in the last two weeks, Zients added.
He also touted Covid treatments, including President Joe Biden’s previous announcement that the federal government is working with Pfizer to accelerate delivery of its antiviral pill.
“The coming weeks are going to be challenging,” Zients said, echoing comments from Biden Tuesday that cases will continue to rise.
Omicron now accounts for 95% of US Covid-19 infections. As Covid-19 cases shot up and demand for tests increased, the President announced last month his administration would be distributing 500 million free at-home Covid-19 tests.
“Americans will start receiving free tests in the coming weeks,” Zients said. “We will set up a free and easy system, including a new website to get these tests out to Americans.”
Zients said that in September the US was producing fewer than 50 million rapid tests per month. Now, more than 200 million are being produced each month. He noted the 500 million tests the administration will distribute are separate from the tests found on pharmacy shelves.
“These are additional tests and this is made possible by the fact that the FDA across the last few months have authorized many more rapid tests, so there’s a lot more capacity for rapid tests,” Zients said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday the deliveries of tests should start “over the next week or so.”
However, the administration has faced criticism because of a lack of specific details about how Americans can get those tests and whether they may end up coming too late to help with the current wave of cases.
The administration is racing to combat the latest surge in Covid-19 cases. Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US have surpassed September’s peak during the Delta surge and are quickly approaching the record high from last year, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
More than one in five hospitals that have an intensive care unit — more than 700 hospitals — reported that at least 95% of ICU beds were occupied during the last week of December, according to HHS data.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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