Biden vows to ramp up testing, boost other health systems in response to omicron wave

President Joe Biden is out with new plans and new appeals to control the spread of COVID-19. He spelled them out Tuesday as the new omicron variant sweeps largely unchecked across the country. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden is out tonight with new plans and new appeals to control COVID-19.

    He spelled them out as the new Omicron variant sweeps largely unchecked across the country.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Biden's message was direct: Omicron is a clear and present danger, and the nation must act.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: We should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At the White House, he laid out new measures that his administration is taking to combat a winter surge of coronavirus cases.

  • Joe Biden:

    Three weeks ago, I laid out a COVID-19 action plan for this winter that prepared us for this moment. Today, we're making the plan even stronger.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Notably, the government plans to buy a half-a-billion at-home rapid test kits and mail them directly to Americans who request them.

    The president said the free kits will be available to order in January. And to cut down on long lines, President Biden announced new federal testing sites across the country. The first one, in New York City, will open before Christmas.

    Today, he defended his actions on testing.

    Mr. President, what's your message to Americans who are trying to get tested now and who are not able to get tested and who are wondering what took so long to ramp up testing?

  • Joe Biden:

    It didn't take long at all. What happened was, the Omicron virus spread even more rapidly than anybody thought.

    If I had told you four weeks ago that this would spread by — on a day-to-day basis, it would spread by 50, 100 percent, 200 percent, 500 percent, I think you would have looked at me and said, Biden, what are you drinking?

    But that's what it did.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Other plans include deploying 1,000 military doctors, nurses and medics to hospitals under the most stress, adding pop-up vaccination clinics across the country, allowing surge pharmacy teams to easily move between states, and sending out ambulances and emergency medical teams to transport patients.

    One point the president reiterated is that the federal government will not reimpose lockdowns.

  • Joe Biden:

    Another question that folks are asking is, are we going back to March 2020? The answer is absolutely no. No.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Overnight, the White House confirmed President Biden himself had come into close contact with an aide who later tested positive. The president has thus far tested negative and will take another test tomorrow.

    Hundreds of thousands of Americans are now having the same experience, as Omicron has officially surpassed Delta to become the dominant variant in the U.S. In just the last week, Omicron's share of infections has increased sixfold. The CDC estimates it accounts for 90 percent of new infections in the New York area, plus the Southeast, industrial Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

    Being fully vaccinated and, especially with Omicron, having a booster, is the best way to remain protected. In New York today, officials announced a new enticement.

    Bill De Blasio (D), Mayor of New York: Get your booster shot,get $100 incentive. It's going to make you feel a lot safer, a lot better that you got the booster, and you will have some more cash in your pocket.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And other holiday plans, for a second year, are changing. A New Year's Eve party that was supposed to take place in Los Angeles' Grand Park will no longer have an in-person audience.

    Sports are also adapting. The National Hockey League has halted all games through Saturday, and announced its players will not take part in the Winter Olympics in China.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

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