Biden's Omicron strategy involves free at-home COVID tests, vaccination boost

COVID tests at aiports
(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The White House early Thursday previewed President Biden's plan to tackle COVID-19, including the newly identified Omicron variant, over the winter. "While some of the measures are new — such as a plan to launch 'family mobile vaccination clinics,' where all eligible members of a family can simultaneously get first shots or boosters — others build on existing tactics," like encouraging businesses to require their employees to get vaccinated or regularly tested, The Washington Post reports.

Biden will formally unveil the plan in a speech at the National Institutes of Health later Thursday. "We are pulling out all the stops to get people the maximum amount of protection as we head into winter months," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Wednesday night.

The Biden administration's plan includes requiring private insurers to cover the costs of at-home rapid COVID-19 tests, expanded testing requirements for all international travelers arriving in the U.S., and an outreach campaign encouraging seniors to get booster shots and parents to vaccinate their children. Biden will also extend until at least March 18 the requirement that everyone wear masks on planes, trains, and busses, plus at airports and other transit hubs. The minimum fine for noncompliance will double to $500.

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The new travel protocols, set to take effect next week, will require everyone entering the U.S. — citizen or not, regardless of vaccination status — to show a negative COVID-19 test administered no more than one day before departure. "But the White House has shelved tougher options, like requiring post-arrival testing or requiring quarantines upon arrival in the U.S.," The Associated Press notes.

"Free and highly available rapid tests would be a game-changer," Charity Dean, a former California health official and the CEO of the Public Health Company, told the Post, but other officials said there's already a shortage of tests. A senior official pointed to administration efforts to boost rapid at-home tests, including investing $3 billion in producing them. "We are doing a ton to ramp up all tests, but specifically, a big focus on ramping up these at-home tests," the official said. The federal guidance for free at-home tests is set to be issued by Jan. 15.

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