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Biden directs surge teams to states hit hardest by omicron

Teams to assist frontline health workers in emergency departments and triage patients

A U.S. Army soldier immunizes a patient last year in Florida. The soldiers were deployed to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the state-run, federally supported COVID-19 community vaccination center.
A U.S. Army soldier immunizes a patient last year in Florida. The soldiers were deployed to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the state-run, federally supported COVID-19 community vaccination center. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Biden administration will send surge teams and resources to six additional states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico — to deal with the influx of hospitalizations due to the omicron variant.

A White House official said the teams would help assist front-line health workers in emergency departments, triage patients, and step in for other providers to continue other types of health care.

The military medical teams, including more than 120 personnel, will be sent to Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit, University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, according to the official.

The first 1,000 medical service members would arrive at hospitals next week to help with previously announced surge efforts.

The announcement comes as President Joe Biden addressed the nation on the omicron surge Thursday morning and emphasized steps the administration has and continues to take to ensure localities have adequate resources to fight the pandemic.

Biden said he has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with every state, territory and the District of Columbia to make sure they have enough hospital bed capacity.

“I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year. The omicron variant is causing millions of cases and record hospitalizations,” said Biden, adding that unvaccinated Americans are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19.

He pointed to United Airlines, which had reported losing one employee life per week to the virus prior to implementing vaccine requirements. The company, he said, has since reported a 99 percent adherence to its vaccine policy and has not had an employee hospitalized or die from the virus in eight weeks.

Biden also made a push for Americans to keep up mask use, citing omicron’s high transmissibility.

“Next week, we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality masks available to American people in America for free,” he said, without providing additional information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to update its mask guidance but has stopped short of saying it intends to push Americans to use only high-filtration masks like N95 or KN95 masks, despite calls from experts to do so.

The president also emphasized that the administration remains on track to roll out a website next week to order free tests to ship to people’s homes. The U.S. government will seek to procure an additional 500 million COVID tests, beyond the 500 million already announced, to increase availability.

A second White House official, speaking on background in order to provide unannounced information, told CQ Roll Call that details about the distribution of 500 million at-home COVID tests and the website for ordering those tests will come out on Friday.

Biden also touted an increase in overall testing capacity.

“It’s estimated that we will hit approximately 15 million tests a day and we’ll have over 375 million at-home rapid tests in January alone,” said Biden, highlighting steps like the Defense Production Act that have increased capacity.

Biden concluded with an appeal to stop misinformation on social media and in some media outlets that has harmed pandemic progress.

“It has to stop. COVID-19 is one of the most formidable enemies America has ever faced. We’ve got to work together, not against each other,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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