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December 21, 2021

Watch: President Biden to pledge free COVID-19 tests, hospital support to combat omicron surge

The White House is expected to distribute 500 million at-home tests next year and deploy 1,000 military doctors and nurses

President Joe Biden will address the nation Tuesday afternoon to outline the White House's plans for tackling the spread of the omicron variant this winter. 

The Biden administration is expected to distribute 500 million free, at-home COVID-19 tests to the public starting in January, the New York Times reported. Americans will be able to submit requests for the tests through an online website.

Philadelphia is providing free, at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits to residents this week ahead of Christmas. The test kits are available at several vaccination clinics across the city.

Biden's plan also will call for establishing new COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Biden administration is expected to deploy 1,000 military doctors and nurses to hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 surges in the next two months. FEMA will provide hospitals with more beds to expand patient capacity. 

The White House will tap into the national stockpile to deliver more ventilators, N95 masks, gloves, gowns and ambulances to medical centers. Emergency medical teams will be sent to support states too.

Biden is expected to reiterate his call for eligible Americans to get a COVID-19 booster shots. Preliminary research has shown that a third dose of Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines boost protection against the omicron variant.

The White House is not pursuing a lockdown strategy akin to those enacted at the onset of the pandemic. Biden also is not expected to urge Americans to avoid travel and cancel holiday plans.

Earlier this month, Biden rolled out a plan to reimburse Americans with private health insurance for at-home COVID-19 tests, increase access to booster shots and implement new testing requirements for international travelers.

However, as people prepare to gather for the holidays, the omicron variant now accounts for 73% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The omicron variant has been detected in 48 states and 89 countries, the Washington Post reported.

The U.S. has averaged more than 146,000 new COVID-19 cases over the last seven days, a 22% jump from the prior week.

About 73% of eligible Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, while more than 61% are fully vaccinated.

A White House livestream of Biden's speech will begin at 2:30 p.m.

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