CORONAVIRUS

Biden urges concern but not alarm as omicron rises

Jan 4, 2022, 3:06 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:42 pm
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting of the White House COVID-19 Response Team January ...
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting of the White House COVID-19 Response Team January 4 , 2022 in Washington, DC. The U.S. continues to see daily case counts increase in the midst of another winter surge brought about primarily by the Omicron variant. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden urged concern but not alarm Tuesday as the U.S. set new records for daily reported COVID-19 cases and his administration struggled to ease concerns about testing shortages, school closures and other disruptions caused by the surging omicron variant.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with his COVID-19 response team at the White House, Biden looked both to convey his administration’s urgency toward addressing the new variant and to convince wary Americans that the current surge bears little resemblance to the onset of the pandemic or last year’s deadly winter. The president emphasized that vaccines, booster shots and therapeutic drugs have mitigated the danger for the overwhelming majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

“You can still get COVID, but it’s highly unlikely, very unlikely, that you’ll become seriously ill,” Biden said of vaccinated people.

“There’s no excuse, there’s no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated,” he added. “This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Compared to last year, more Americans are employed, most kids are in classrooms, and instances of death and serious illness are down — precipitously so among the vaccinated.

“We’re in a very different place than we were a year ago,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki when asked if the country had lost control of the virus.

Still, over the past several weeks Americans have seen dire warnings about hospitals reaching capacity amid staffing shortages, thousands of holiday flight cancellations in part because crews were ill or in quarantine, and intermittent reports of school closures because of the more-transmissible variant.

“I believe schools should remain open,” Biden said, adding that they have the funding needed for testing and other mitigation measures to stay open during the surge.

The president also announced that the U.S. is doubling its order for an anti-viral pill produced by Pfizer that was recently authorized by the FDA to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. That means 20 million doses, with the first 10 million pills to be delivered by June.

A senior administration official said that combined with other therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma, 4 million treatments that are effective against the omicron variant would be available by the end of January.

“They’re a game changer and have the potential to dramatically alter the impact of COVID-19, the impact it’s had on this country and our people,” Biden said of the pills.

Biden, though, is also facing new pressure to ease a nationwide testing shortage, as people seek to determine if they or their family members have been infected with the variant. Long lines and chaotic scenes over the holidays marred the administration’s image as having the pandemic in hand.

“On testing, I know this remains frustrating. Believe me it’s frustrating to me, but we’re making improvements,” Biden said.

In a reversal, the White House announced last month that it would make 500 million rapid antigen tests available free to requesting Americans, but it will be weeks, if not months, before those tests are widely available. The administration notes those tests are on top of existing supply of rapid tests and that even a small increase will help ease some of the shortages. Additionally, private insurers will be required to cover the cost of at-home tests starting later this month.

Test manufacturers have until Tuesday night to respond to the government’s contract request, and the first awards are expected to be made this week, Psaki said. Meanwhile, the administration is still developing a system for Americans to order the tests as well as a means to ship them to people’s homes.

“We’ll set up a free and easy system, including a new website to get these tests out to Americans,” COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said last week. “We’re actively working to finalize that distribution mechanism, which includes a website where people will be able to order tests for free. And we’ll share more details in the weeks ahead — days and weeks ahead.”

Pressed when the first tests would reach Americans, Psaki said, “I don’t have an update on that at this point in time.”

In a Monday letter, GOP Sens. Richard Burr and Roy Blunt, the top Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, pressed the Department of Health and Human Services for answers on how the administration was working to address nationwide testing shortages.

“With over $82.6 billion specifically appropriated for testing, and flexibility within the department to allocate additional funds from COVID-19 supplemental bills or annual appropriations if necessary, it is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now,” they wrote. “It does not appear to be because of lack of funding, but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration.”

White House officials have noted that the spike in testing demand is driven not just by omicron, but by people seeking to travel safely during the holidays and return to school after, and that the shortages are global in nature.

“Turns out, Omicron is driving a spike in demand for testing…everywhere,” tweeted Ben Wakana, the deputy director of strategic communications & engagement for the White House’s COVID-19 response team, highlighting similar shortages in the U.K., Canada and Australia.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Coronavirus

(KSL-TV)...
Katija Stjepovic

Utah arts and cultural jobs are surging after COVID pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic pulled the curtains on most of Utah's arts and cultural jobs, but after nearly three years, they are reemerging. 
2 days ago
...
Ashley Moser

Flu, COVID and RSV all trending down for the first time in months, says CDC

Major respiratory illnesses are all trending down for the first time since September, according to the CDC.
16 days ago
FILE PHOTO (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)...
Josh Ellis

Utah doctor, others charged with running COVID vaccine scheme, issuing fake records and giving fake shots

A Utah plastic surgeon, his medical corporation and three others have been charged after prosecutors say they issued fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards and injected minors with saline shots.
22 days ago
Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of Salt Lake County Health Department, left, discusses schoolch...
Michael Houck

Salt Lake County ends its COVID-19 emergency status

After nearly three years, the Salt Lake County Health Department ended its COVID emergency status Tuesday. 
30 days ago
FILE: People line up in their cars as members of the Utah National Guard give COVID-19 swab tests a...
Eliza Pace

Gov. Cox, along with 24 other governors, call on President Biden to end Federal Public Health Emergency

Gov. Spencer Cox signed a letter with 24 other governors calling on President Joe Biden to end the federal public health emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic.
2 months ago
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes guests to the East Room of the White House on December 14, 2022 i...
ZEKE MILLER, AP White House Correspondent

White House reveals winter COVID-19 plans, more free tests

The Biden administration is again making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households as it unveils its contingency plans for potential coronavirus surges this winter.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Biden urges concern but not alarm as omicron rises