Biden Vows to Fight Omicron “With Science and Speed” as the New Strain Cases Multiply

A range of measures was announced on Thursday by President Biden for the protection of Americans from an outbreak such as Coronavirus, which has been linked to five states, and researchers have revealed that the still-mysterious variant is capable of reinfecting people who have previously been infected.

“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” Biden said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health, appealing to Americans to put aside partisan differences and continue to get vaccinated, wear masks and take other precautions.

“This is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope.”

Among the president’s plans are stronger vaccination and booster campaigns, more strict testing of international travelers, and free rapid Coronavirus testing at home for a wider audience.

A few of the measures are new, but others are already established tactics, such as requiring businesses to vaccinate and test employees.

Biden’s plan has been praised by some health experts, but they have called for more investment in testing, screening, and fighting misinformation about vaccines.

As well, Biden’s promise that the nation would repel Omicron following its success against the Delta strain.

This is the “most aggressive pandemic plan yet for the United States but still falls short of all that’s needed now,” Scripps Research Translational Institute director Eric Topol said.

Biden offers a package of anti-coronavirus strategies at the same time that officials confirm cases linked to omicron in California, Minnesota, Colorado, New York, and Hawaii.

Meanwhile, researchers in South Africa reported that the new variant was associated with an increase in Coronavirus re-infection cases, though the cases were mild.

The new variant will not be fully understood for days to weeks, if at all until it is understood if the variant evades current vaccines and treatments or has been exposed to people who are infected.

Read More: Omicron Variant: White House Lays Out the Plan to Impose Vaccine Requirements on Domestic Travel

In his statement, Biden reaffirmed vaccines as the most effective way to protect against old and new strains, and that everyone should get vaccinated with booster shots as soon as they are eligible since immunity fades over time.

“Starting today, we’re making it easier than ever to get a booster shot,” President Biden  said.

AARP, an older American advocacy group, is partnering with the Department of Health to promote new booster-shot campaigns.

Medicaid, the federal health insurance program with a safety net, will reimburse health care providers for “COVID-19 counseling visits,” during which health workers assist families with vaccine questions and emphasize the necessity of immunizations especially in children.

Vaccination plans have slowed and attitudes appear to have hardened, so it was unclear whether such plans would lead to significant movement.

According to The Washington Post’s vaccination tracker, only 59.4 percent of Americans had received a full Coronavirus vaccine as of November 1.

The partisan gap in the number of Americans getting a booster shot is also growing.

In a report released on Thursday, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 32 percent of Democrats who had been vaccinated received a booster shot, compared to 18 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of independents.

Thirty-one percent of Republicans who were fully vaccinated said they would probably not seek a booster shot.

“We saw partisanship play out as the biggest predictor of whether people would get a first shot,” said Liz Hamel, an official at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Now we’re seeing that even among the fully vaccinated, Republicans are less eager to get boosters.”

Hamel, however, said that omicron might change minds.

Cyrus Shahpar, White House Covid-19 Data Director, reported on Twitter that the United States administered 2.18 million doses in the past 24 hours.

More than 1 million boosters were administered along with 678,000 first doses of vaccine to previously unvaccinated Americans.

In the meantime, President Biden promoted a plan to expand the accessibility of rapid at-home tests, beginning in January by requiring private insurers to reimburse consumers for the testing fees, whereas some rural clinics and community health centers offer them for free.

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“Private insurers already cover the expensive PCR test that you get at a doctor’s office, and now they will cover at-home tests as well,” he said, adding that the plan does not apply retroactively to previously purchased tests.

The model of implementation of this has been questioned by some public health experts.

The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Nirav D. Shah said officials hope that the reimbursements are approved as soon as the test is purchased.

“Lumping in the covid test under that model would greatly expand access,” he said during a news conference Thursday.

There have been other arguments that the government should purchase the tests and distribute them widely free of charge.

According to Tinglong Dai, a professor at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, using private health insurance is a suckers’ strategy.

“You have to buy this test and then get reimbursed; it’s a lot of hassle.”

Furthermore, he noted, insurers raise premiums to recover their costs. As such “Nothing is really free,” he said.

The lack of real-time data on infections has resulted in disastrous consequences for controlling the spread of the virus, warning public health experts desperate for more access to rapid coronavirus testing.

“Free and highly available rapid tests would be a game-changer,” Charity Dean said, a former health official for the state of California and the CEO of Public Health Company of California.

“If we had rapid tests at every door for every school, every movie theater, any person can go and get them — just like they can in many other countries — it would enable people to have personal responsibility and know when they’re infectious.”

CDC head Shah pointed out that states have continued to have difficulty in obtaining and funding rapid at-home tests from manufacturers. School districts, nursing homes, prisons, and other locations received purchased tests in bulk from state health departments.

In Maine, authorities have pre-ordered tens of thousands of Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid at-home antigen tests for delivery, but Abbott has failed to deliver on time, Shah said.

While there are other authorized rapid tests on the market, state officials need to send the same test to institutions because “that’s what they know how to use,” he said.

Biden announced also that international travelers arriving within one day after global departure must be tested for the Coronavirus regardless of their Corvid status or nationality.

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Vaccinated travelers who were able to get vaccinated up to three days before departure will be required to get tested in a stricter manner under the new policy, which goes into effect on Dec. 6.

The move follows the White House’s announcement this week that it had placed travel restrictions on eight nations in southern Africa in response to concerns about a new strain of the parasite, known as omicron.

Despite international restrictions and testing for international travelers, epidemiologist and infectious-disease specialist Celine Gounder said she was unsatisfied with the White House’s little focus on domestic flights.

“When you think about Texas, it’s the size of France — and it operates as its own country in many respects,” Gounder said while he called on policymakers to pay more attention to how state policies impact the spread of the disease.

“If you’re really trying to prevent spread of dangerous variants, you should be providing similar standards across the board.”

Upon being asked if additional restrictions would be placed on domestic and international flights, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded saying, “nothing is off the table” in regards to controlling the spread of the virus.

Psaki noted that the administration considers what will be “most implementable” but affirms that “our most important factor is what is going to be most effective.”

Besides his announcement about masks for planes, trains, and public transportation, Biden also announced that masks would be required at transportation hubs like airports and bus stations.

In addition to that, the minimum fine for noncompliance has been doubled to $500, and the measures were supposed to expire in January but will run till March 18.

However, a new masking or vaccination mandate is not part of the administration’s plan.

White House officials have described this move as unnecessary and public health experts as difficult to implement.

“I feel like they’ve kind of maxed out what they can do with mandates, from a political perspective,” Gounder asserted.

Following omicron’s emergence, some experts believe that shutdowns would not be necessary.

“The reason why we had to do broad shutdowns and broad stay-at-home orders in March 2020 was because we were flying blind” with no knowledge of the virus or how to combat it, Dean stated.

“Today … we can use the tools at our disposal to execute containment and mitigation with surgical precision.”

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The White House is in constant communication with vaccine makers and counterparts overseas about the potential effects of the omicron variant when Biden announced his plan.

The fate of Biden’s political career is linked to the pandemic response, according to his aides.

White House officials remained optimistic about shifting attention to the president’s economic agenda although the ravages of the delta variant have subsided after a trying summer marked by a rising number of covid cases, a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and supply chain disruptions.

Nevertheless, the new and potentially more dangerous variant has affected the president’s efforts and operations.

“I expect this not to be the new normal,” Biden responded Monday when asked whether Americans are supposed to get used to periodic rounds of travel restrictions and new variants.

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