January 13, 2022 – President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the US government will provide free, updated face masks to order online starting next week.
In addition, it is ordering 500 million COVID-19 tests quickly to meet future demand and deploying more military teams to help overwhelmed hospitals in the hardest-hit countries.
These measures are part of the “whole government” response to the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations linked to the Omicron variant.
Biden’s plan is to make it easier for Americans to get the upgraded masks.
“I’ve taken every measure I can as president to require people to wear masks on federal buildings and on planes and trains,” the president said. However, “I know that for some Americans, a mask is not always affordable or convenient to have.”
With that in mind, the White House will announce next week how people can order high-quality masks, including N95s, online, for free, on a new website.
Biden estimated that about a third of Americans say they never wear masks, a statistic he hopes to change.
The President also acknowledged the epidemiological fatigue that many people are experiencing.
He said: “We all wish we could finally finish wearing masks, I get it. But it’s a really important tool to stop the spread, especially [of] Omicron’s high-transport variant”.
In the 10-minute speech, Biden also announced plans to order 500 million rapid at-home COVID-19 tests to meet demand. The order comes on top of the 500 million tests the government has already ordered.
When doing the math, the president noted that the current and future supply means there will be a billion tests “obtained to ship them free to your home.”
Biden also noted that rapid at-home tests were not available when he took office. In contrast, he said, “We will have more than 375 million rapid at-home tests in January alone. That’s a huge leap.”
In the meantime, his department will work with online retailers to make more testing available. Also, for any American who wants to get tested right away, FEMA is adding more free in-person testing sites nationwide.
More Military Backup
“I am announcing our upcoming deployment of six additional federal medical teams,” Biden said. Those reinforcements include sending more than 120 military medical personnel to hard-hit states, including Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island.
These military personnel will join other teams already operating.
Biden noted that since Thanksgiving, more than 800 military and other federal emergency personnel have been deployed to 24 states, tribes and territories. The numbers included more than 350 military doctors, nurses and paramedics to assist the overcrowded hospital staff. In addition, more than 14,000 National Guard personnel have already been deployed to assist health care workers in 49 states.
Vaccination remains a top priority
Getting more Americans vaccinated and boosted remains a priority, especially during the Omicron surge.
“Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people test positive. But what happens next couldn’t be more different,” Biden said. “If vaccinated people test positive, the vast majority of them either have no symptoms at all or have mild symptoms.”
In contrast, when an unvaccinated person tests positive, they are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized, he said.
“As long as we have tens of millions of people who won’t be vaccinated, we’ll have whole hospitals and needless deaths. They’re crowding hospitals, leaving no room for anyone else who might have a heart attack, a car or an accident or any injury whatsoever,” Biden said.
One of the bright spots so far in Omicron’s increase, he said, is that, despite the jump in case numbers and hospitalizations, “the deaths are significantly down from last winter.”
Union against a common enemy
America “will get through this when everyone does their part, no matter where you live, no matter your political party,” Biden said.
Also acknowledging the political divide affecting the COVID-19 response and numbers, he said, “We fought a battle together. We have to work together. Not against each other.”