NOW: Biden delivers speech on Omicron and his administration’s response to Covid-19 surge πŸ’₯πŸ’₯πŸ’₯

President Biden is delivering remarks on the pandemic and is expected to announce a purchase of a half-billion at-home rapid Covid-19 tests and a plan to distribute them free to Americans who request them through a website, one of a series of new steps he’ll unveil as the country faces a wintertime surge of infections.

The 500 million new tests will be made available next month and will reach Americans through the mail, the official said. The administration is still working to determine how many tests each household may request.

Among the President’s new initiatives is a plan to prepare 1,000 military service members to deploy to overburdened hospitals across the country in January and February, administration officials said. Those service members will include doctors, nurses, medics and other military medical personnel.

Biden hopes to reassure Americans that if they are vaccinated, they can still proceed with their holiday plans without fear of becoming seriously ill. Conversely, he wants to warn those who have not yet received shots of the potential for severe illness or death in the coming months.

“The President will tell the American people if they’re vaccinated and follow the precautions we all know well, especially masking while traveling, they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as they planned,” a senior administration official said ahead of time, previewing a speech that Biden hopes will reassure anxious Americans ahead of the festive season.

By contrast, Biden will warn the tens of millions of Americans who have so far declined to get vaccinated that they run a high risk of becoming ill or hospitalized as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.

Biden will also announce new vaccination sites and increased vaccine access, and will deploy hundreds of additional federal vaccinators who will help add “thousands of appointments each week,” the official said.

More background: The speech, coming just days before Christmas, reflects Biden’s renewed focus on the coronavirus pandemic as anxiety rises around the country at the potential for new restrictions and lockdowns.

Lines for testing centers have stretched for blocks in certain areas, including the northeast, leading the White House to develop plans to open new federal testing sites in New York City before Christmas.

Distributing free at-home tests to all Americans was written off by the White House as recently as this month. Press secretary Jen Psaki scoffed earlier this month when asked if tests should be free and given out, available everywhere.

NOW: Biden delivers speech on Omicron and his administration’s response to Covid-19 surge

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