By ZEKE MILLER
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is highlighting the federal government’s efforts to “surge” COVID-19 testing and military medical personnel to help overwhelmed medical facilities weather the spike in coronavirus cases and staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Starting next week, 1,000 military medical personnel will begin arriving to help mitigate staffing crunches at hospitals across the country. Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.
Biden planned to deliver remarks Thursday morning on the “surge response” to COVID-19, the White House said. The administration’s focus is shifting to easing disruptions from the nationwide spike in cases that is also contributing to grocery shortages and flight cancellations.
On Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, told Congress that the highly transmissible strain will infect “most people” and that the focus should turn to ensuring critical services can continue uninterrupted.
“I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?” she said. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.”
The White House said Biden would also announce that he is directing his team to double its procurement of rapid COVID-19 tests to be delivered for free to Americans through a forthcoming federal website, as he seeks to respond to criticism over shortages and long lines for tests. The initial order was for 500 million tests, and now the federal government will purchase 1 billion at-home testing kits.
The White House said Biden would be joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recently recovered from his own case of COVID-19, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. They will spotlight the work of the more than 800 military personnel who have been helping civilian hospitals since Thanksgiving and the more than 14,000 National Guard members whose work supporting vaccinations, testing and caring for patients is being covered by the federal government.
The White House said the trio would speak with federal personnel who are already on the ground in Arizona, Michigan and New York to hear about their experiences.
Biden will also announce that six additional military medical teams will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.
The White House said the teams will support Henry Ford Hospital just outside Detroit, University Hospital in Newark, the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Cleveland Clinic and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.
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