WASHINGTON — Hoping to stem what experts are warning will be a “viral blizzard” this winter as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 grips the nation, President Biden on Tuesday announced plans to deploy military troops to hospitals, create new federal testing sites, add vaccination capacity, and send 500 million rapid tests for free to people’s homes.
Speaking in front of red and gold Christmas decorations, Biden said:
“This is the critical moment. [We have] more tools than we’ve ever had before. We’re ready. We’ll get through this.”
The new steps come as COVID cases surge across the country, with the highly transmissible variant accounting for 73 percent of new cases nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and at least one death.
They represent a ramping up of the wintertime strategy the administration rolled out earlier this month, but public health experts warn that the United States is already lagging behind in testing and other aspects of its pandemic-fighting infrastructure.
During his speech, Biden acknowledged the nation needs to expand its testing capacity, though he rejected suggestions his administration had failed to prepare for Omicron’s spread.
Millions of Americans have struggled in recent days to find tests for the holidays ― underscoring how much work the government has left to do.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated this was going to as rapidly spread as it did,” he told reporters. “Everyone rushed to the counter.”
Certain components of the plan — including the delivery of free home tests to people who want them — will not be available until January, well after a holiday season that is all but certain to exacerbate the explosion of cases.
And it comes at a time when health care providers are stretched thin, testing sites are choked with long lines, and, experts say, there is not a second to lose …