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Biden pledges more tests, masks and federal medical help amid Covid surge

Covid-19 hospitalizations have doubled in 15 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., over the past two weeks, contributing to a national record for pandemic hospitalizations

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to buy an additional 500 million Covid tests, is working to make free masks more widely available and will deploy more federal medical teams to hospitals in six states to help with debilitating staffing shortages amid a surge in hospitalizations.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the additional tests will be needed to meet future demand and are in addition to the 500 million rapid home tests the United States is in the process of acquiring to ship to Americans for free. A website to request one of those free at-home tests will be available next week, he said.

Along with the additional testing, Biden said that next week he will announce a way to make “high-quality masks” available for free. Public health officials have been urging the administration to do more to encourage Americans to wear high-filtration N95 masks, which could significantly reduce transmission of the highly contagious omicron variant.

“I know we all wish we could finally end mask wearing, I get that,” Biden said. “But clearly they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of a highly transmissible omicron version. So please wear the mask.”

Biden said the federal government is also sending additional military personnel to hospitals. Along with the Cleveland Clinic, the teams will go to Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York; Rhode Island Hospital in Providence; the Henry Ford Hospital outside the University of New Mexico Detroit hospital in Albuquerque; and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, according to a White House official.

“These teams will provide relief, assess patients, help decompress overwhelmed emergency departments and free up healthcare providers to continue other life-saving care,” a White House official said in a statement. “They will work alongside health workers on the front lines to provide them with the support they need.”

The efforts come as the country is experiencing an unprecedented surge in infections that risks overwhelming the country’s already overburdened hospitals, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. While the data suggests people are less likely to get seriously ill from the highly contagious omicron, especially if they’re vaccinated, Walensky said the high number of cases is driving up hospitalizations, which are up 33 percent in the last week.

Covid-19 hospitalizations have doubled in 15 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, over the past two weeks, contributing to a national record for pandemic hospitalizations, according to an NBC News analysis of Department of Health data. and Human Services. The United States set a single-day record for Covid hospitalizations on Sunday, when more than 142,000 hospitalizations were reported.

At the Cleveland Clinic, staffing shortages and a surge in omicron cases are straining the system with younger and sicker patients than a year ago and a staff exhausted after nearly two years of battling the pandemic, they said. hospital officials told NBC News. With about 5 percent of hospital staff sick with Covid infections, the state recently had to send in the National Guard to do everything from run testing centers to deliver meals.

Biden is expected to make the announcement in remarks Thursday after being briefed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Covid response team on the status of the pandemic and the administration’s response to him.

The Department of Defense will begin deploying the first of 1,000 military medical personnel to hospitals and more than 800 military and federal emergency personnel have been deployed to 24 states, in addition to the 14,000 National Guard members who have been activated. , being paid for by the approved Covid relief bill. Last spring.

But Biden said the most important thing for Americans to do is get vaccinated.

“As long as we have tens of millions of people not getting vaccinated, we will have full hospitals and needless deaths,” Biden said. “So the most important thing to determine your outcome in this pandemic is to get vaccinated.”

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