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The White House again ups federal agency deployments to confront the pandemic and the surging Omicron variant.
The Biden administration is once again escalating its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of the Omicron variant, with the White House announcing on Tuesday agencies will soon deploy more resources to boost testing and vaccinations, and support hospitals.
The administration will launch federal testing sites around the country, standing up the first in New York City before Christmas. It will establish subsequent sites in states and communities where capacity is constrained, a senior administration official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity said on Monday, with those going up in January and February. The government will once again deploy hundreds of federal personnel to boost vaccination capacity around the country, with the goal of boosting capacity by thousands of shots per week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will oversee pop-up vaccination sites operated by the federal government, with the first ones going to Washington and New Mexico.
President Biden also tapped FEMA to activate the National Response Coordination Center at its Washington headquarters and to deploy its personnel to assess hospital capacities across the country. It will soon begin providing direct support to facilities that need it, including with personal protective equipment and other supplies. FEMA will send out planners to help states develop plans and assess their needs. In the meantime, federal personnel will deploy to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont to provide medical assistance there, bringing the total to more than 400 federal medical staff in the field. Biden also directed the Defense Department to deploy 1,000 military members in health care positions to go to "overburdened" hospitals over the next two months.
“These doctors and nurses and others will be ready to deploy to neighboring hospitals that need them,” the senior administration official said. “God willing, we will not need all of these servicemen and women, but if we do, they are ready and they are mobilized.”
The new civilian and military deployments come on top of Biden’s announcement earlier this month that he would send 60 COVID-19 response teams around the country including personnel from Defense and the departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, tripling the teams that had been out in the field.
The federal government has deployed staff throughout the pandemic, though it briefly pulled back earlier this year as cases waned to prepare for hurricane season. The emergency response teams were made up of personnel from FEMA, CDC and other agencies. They have helped with testing, contact tracing, therapeutics and vaccinations.
The White House also announced it was purchasing 500 million tests and will soon set up a website for any Americans to order one for free. The tests will be available in January and delivered by mail for free, though the White House is still finalizing how many each individual will be entitled to order. The administration pledged to boost its use of the Defense Production Act to boost the supply of at-home, rapid tests.