Biden Announces Plan to Prevent a Winter Covid Surge
Health Care

Biden Announces Plan to Prevent a Winter Covid Surge


President Biden on Thursday announced new steps to combat the Covid-19 pandemic heading into the winter months, calling for expanded campaigns to increase vaccinations and booster shots, improved availability of free at-home testing and stronger testing requirements for international travelers.

Biden emphasized that his plan “doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns” and said he hoped Americans would rally around the new efforts.

“My plan I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against Covid-19. It’s a plan that I think should unite us,” he said. “I know Covid 19 has been very divisive in this country. It’s become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. It shouldn’t be, but it has been. Now as we move into the winter and face the challenge of this new variant, this is a moment when we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope. This is a moment we can do what we haven’t been able to do enough of through this whole pandemic: Get the nation to come together.”

Even as Biden spoke, though, Republicans on Capitol Hill were threatening to shut down the government briefly over their objections to the president’s vaccine mandate for large private employers.

What’s in Biden’s plan: “While some of the measures are new — notably a plan to launch ‘family mobile vaccination clinics,’ where all eligible members of a family could simultaneously get shots and boosters — others build on existing tactics, such as rallying businesses to mandate vaccination-or-testing requirements for employees,” The Washington Post reports.

As part of Biden’s plan, the government will ramp up efforts to get Americans, especially seniors, to get booster shots. The push will include new ads and events as well as a special notice sent to 63 million Medicare beneficiaries.

The plan also will enable Americans covered by private insurance to get reimbursed for buying rapid, at-home Covid tests and will make those tests more available to those without private insurance through health centers and clinics.

“Insurance reimbursement for at-home COVID tests is hardly the most efficient way to give people better access to affordable testing,” Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said on Twitter. “But, it is something the Biden Administration can do quickly with existing authority, and quick action is important right now.”

Biden also said that, starting early next week, inbound international travelers will be required to get a Covid test within one day of their trip, a tighter timeframe than had previously required. And he extended the requirement to wear a mask on airplanes, trains and public transportation through March 18, with the minimum fine for noncompliance doubled to $500 and fines of up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

On guard against omicron: Biden’s announcement, made in a speech at the National Institutes of Health, came just hours after the second confirmed U.S. infection from the recently discovered omicron variant of the virus was found in Minnesota. A third case was confirmed in Colorado.

Biden said that one of his polling experts had suggested that some 30% of people who have insisted that they won’t be vaccinated may now be open to receiving the shots because of the new omicron variant. “We hope that’s true,” he said.

While that projection may be optimistic, any increase in vaccinations rates would be a welcome turn for public health experts concerned by persistent vaccine hesitancy fueled in large part by a proliferation of misinformation. The Washington Post notes that 58% of Americans were considered “fully vaccinated” as of November 1. A month later, that figure had only risen to 59.4%.

You can read more about Biden’s new plan here or here.