U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a new plan to increase testing, speed up vaccination and boost the capacity of hospitals that could be strained in the coming weeks amid surging cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Biden emphasized that vaccinated individuals, especially those with a booster shot, are "highly protected" against the virus, while reassuring the country can avoid lockdowns or school closure.
To that end, Biden said new federal testing sites will be set up around the country to help states that need additional testing capacity. The first will be set up in New York City this week.
His administration plans to purchase 500 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to distribute for free to any American who wants one, he said.
Besides, Biden said he is mobilizing an additional 1,000 military health personnel to burdened hospitals, as well as generating resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with staffing and adding beds.
However, Biden made it clear that the United States was in a different position than it was in March 2020, largely because of the wide availability of coronavirus vaccines.
Biden's speech came as the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the country and the public has grown weary of the prolonged pandemic.
The Omicron variant accounted for 73 percent of new coronavirus cases in the United States on Dec. 12-18, according to modeled projections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC also published new analysis late Monday, warning one worst-case scenario is likely to lead to massive peaks in infection exceeding earlier records as soon as in January.
The current seven-day average of daily new infections in the United States doubled compared to early November, rising from about 76,000 cases on Nov. 9 to over 145,000 cases on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
Hospitalizations have also increased by nearly 50 percent since early November, rising from about 47,000 on Nov. 9 to more than 69,000 now, said the Post's data.
Biden unveiled his initial plan early this month to combat a winter surge, which included campaigns to increase vaccination and booster shots, more stringent testing for international travelers, and plans to make rapid at-home coronavirus testing free for more people.