Speaking on Thursday, President Biden is sharing his 'winter plan' to (ostensibly, at least) help combat another wave of COVID infections driven by the omicron variant (or seasonality, nobody knows for certain).
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Biden said in his speech that his plan "pulls no punches" and even claimed his new measures would receive "bipartisan support", even though the US has only confirmed two cases of omicron, one in San Francisco and one in Minnesota, in a man who had just recently returned from New York City. President Biden reiterated that the omicron variant is cause for "concern not panic".
Bidens' plan will revolve around 5 key points, the first of which is...
1. Expanding access to booster shots. Fewer than 300 cases of omicron have been confirmed world-wide, and yet President Biden is insisting that a booster is the only way to protect against it (a strain of the virus which, for all we know, might cause even milder infections than delta).
2. Developing new policies to keep students in school classrooms for longer, including a new policy called "test to stay" allowing students exposed to COVID to remain in classrooms.
3. Encouraging "free" at-home testing by requiring insurance companies to pay or reimburse Americans for the cost of a test. Biden will also use the defense production act to speed production of rapid- and at-home tests. The US has approved at least 8 at-home testing options, and competition is making costs decline. By next month, private insurance companies will cover at-home tests as well as rapid tests and others. Those not covered can pick up free test kits paid for by the federal government.
4. Biden wants to develop a surge plan to respond to any future outbreaks to help communities who experience "rising cases this winter". Biden says the White House has already been working with both Democratic and Republican governors to field "surge response teams" in areas where resources are growing thin. The US already has 20 teams deployed, but Biden wants to triple that to 60 before the end of the winter.
5. Finally, Biden wants to tighten travel restrictions, particularly on foreigners visiting the US. From here on out, all inbound travelers must have a negative COVID test from the last 24 hours, regardless of nationality or vaccination status.
In other words, it doesn't matter if you're vaccinated: you still need regular tests to show you don't have COVID, since breakthrough infections are already unsettlingly common.
Finally, Biden insisted that his plan wouldn't include shutdowns or lockdowns, and that he expects the economy to function normally throughout the winter. Most of the details of Biden's plan have been shared with the press already. They include new travel restrictions on foreigners and US citizens requiring COVID tests showing a negative result within the 24 hours before departure for foreigners flying to the US. The federal mask mandate for airports, train stations and other public transit hubs will be extended until March.
Ultimately, President Biden said, defeating COVID will require "vaccinating the rest of the world". But the sad reality is even if the US succeeds in sending 200 billion doses to the rest of the world (an almost unrealistic target that would take years), it's not clear whether this would be enough to stamp out COVID - in fact, it could simply force the virus to mutate more quickly into increasingly virulent forms.