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Biden to step up federal COVID measures as omicron variant spreads

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Dan McCaleb | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden is expected to announce new steps to fight COVID-19 Tuesday as the number of new cases continues to rise and the U.S. recorded its first death from the now dominant omicron variant.

In a Tuesday afternoon speech, Biden plans to announce the deployment of federal medical workers to six states that are seeing the biggest surges: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The emergency response teams will include more than 100 clinical personnel and paramedics, a fact sheet from the White House says.

The omicron variant, believed to be much more contagious but not necessarily as dangerous as previous variants, has been leading to a rise in cases across the country.

The administration's plan includes deploying an additional 1,000 troops in January and February to hospitals that are near or at capacity with COVID-19 patients. The service members will include military doctors, nurses and paramedics, according to the fact sheet.

The action plan includes distribution of 500 million taxpayer-funded home testing kits starting in January 2022, and the opening of new federal testing sites across the U.S.

"The first will be stood up in New York City this week," the fact sheet says.

The Biden administration also will direct "the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to activate additional staffing and capacity for the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) and FEMA regions, and to mobilize planning teams to work with every state and territory to assess hospital needs ahead of winter surges, and to start expanding hospital bed capacity now – with the federal government paying for all of it. The Administration is also pre-positioning the federal government’s own supplies and resources to help make more beds available."

FEMA will make available hundreds of ambulances and emergency medical teams to take COVID-19 patients to hospitals with open beds and supply hospitals that need them with additional ventilators.

"Just this week, 30 paramedics are heading to New Hampshire, 30 to Vermont, and 20 to Arizona, and 30 ambulances are headed to New York and 8 to Maine," the announcement says.

And the administration plans to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines by setting up new clinics and "deploying hundreds of federal vaccinators across 12 states, Tribes and territories," according to the fact sheet.