Biden launches winter COVID-19 booster, test campaign – Reading Eagle – Community News
Covid-19

Biden launches winter COVID-19 booster, test campaign – Reading Eagle

By ZEKE MILLER

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden kicks off a more urgent campaign on Thursday for Americans to get COVID-19 booster shots as he unveils his winter plans to fight the coronavirus and its omicron variant with improved shot and vaccine availability, but without major new restrictions.

The plan includes a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 testing and a tightening of testing requirements for people entering the US regardless of their vaccination status. But as some other countries close their borders or reintroduce lockdowns, officials said Biden had no plans to impose additional restrictions beyond his recommendation that Americans wear masks indoors in public facilities.

Biden said Wednesday that the forthcoming strategy, to be unveiled during a speech at the National Institutes of Health, would fight the virus “not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.”

The White House released details about Biden’s plan early Thursday ahead of the speech.

The Biden administration has come to view the widespread adoption of booster shots as the most effective tool in fighting COVID-19 this winter. Medical experts say boosters provide improved and more durable protection against COVID-19, including new variants.

About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters under current US policy, with more qualifying every day. Convincing those already vaccinated to get another dose, officials believe, will be much easier than vaccinating the roughly 43 million adult Americans who haven’t had a chance despite widespread public pressure to roll up their sleeves.

And while Biden’s vaccination or testing requirement for employees at larger employers has been held up by legal challenges, the president on Thursday will renew his call on companies to go ahead and impose their own mandates on employees so they can stay open without outbreaks.

In an effort to encourage more people to take the booster dose, the Biden administration is stepping up direct outreach to seniors — the population most vulnerable to the virus. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will message all 63 million Medicare beneficiaries, encouraging them to receive booster doses, the White House said. The AARP will work with the administration on information campaigns for seniors.

To date, approximately 42 million Americans, about half of whom are seniors, have received a booster dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week extended their booster dose recommendation to all Americans at least 18 years old, starting six months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s mRNA vaccines.

The White House said the CDC was also developing new guidelines for schools in an effort to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for schools that have not been fully vaccinated and exposed to the virus. The new policy, which the White House said will be released in the coming weeks, may include the so-called “test-to-stay” policy, whereby those considered close contacts can stay in school but wear masks and undergo serial testing to minimize learning loss and interruptions.

The administration’s upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover home testing is still being drafted, and many details have yet to be worked out, including what criteria they will be refundable under, officials said. Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not qualify, but the White House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would have easier and cheaper access to the tests at home.

Starting next week, the White House said, all travelers to the US, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flight. That’s less than three days right now for those who have been vaccinated, as an extra precaution against the omicron variant. But the White House has suspended tougher options, such as requiring post-arrival testing or requiring quarantine upon arrival in the U.S.

Biden is also extending his directive requiring masks on airplanes and other public transportation, which was set to expire in January, until at least mid-March, the White House said.

The government also informs states that it has more than 60 teams available to help them or their municipalities address spikes in cases and public health shortages entering the winter, half of which are focused on strengthening hospital services and 20 focused on supporting life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments.