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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Today, in response to a rise in COVID-19 infections spurred by the Omicron and Delta variants, President Joe Biden announced an expansion of federal hospital response efforts, with an additional six medical teams, comprising more than 120 medical personnel, being deployed to six hard-hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island.

These deployments add to the more than 800 military and federal emergency personnel that have been dispatched to 24 states, tribes and territories since Thanksgiving, with the teams providing assistance to hospitals that are short-staffed and stretched for resources. 

On top of that, more than 14,000 National Guard members have been sent to dozens of states, and the federal government is ramping up its shipments of COVID-19 treatments, including antiviral medications. The White House has also directed FEMA to ensure hospitals have adequate bed capacity.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

The response is meant to beat back rising case counts and ease the burden on rapidly filling hospitals. But Biden strongly suggested that Americans should be doing their part, and that, he said, means getting vaccinated and boosted.

“Because we fully vaccinated nearly 210 million Americans, the majority of this country is safe from severe COVID-19 consequences,” Biden said in a press briefing Thursday. “Deaths are down dramatically from last winter. For example, before their vaccination requirements, United Airlines was averaging one employee dying per week due to COVID-19. Now 99% of their workforce is vaccinated. United has had more than 3,000 employees test positive, but no deaths or hospitalizations in eight weeks. But as long as we have tens of millions of people who don’t get vaccinated, we’re going to have full hospitals and needless deaths.”

Biden also stressed the importance of wearing masks, which continues to play an important role in mitigating the virus’ spread, particularly in indoor spaces and in public gatherings. 

One area that has already seen improvement is testing, with Biden saying that there were fewer than 2 million coronavirus tests being administered per day when he took office. This month, that number will average about 15 million tests per day, he said. He also credited invoking the Defense Production Act in February 2021 for the 375 million at-home rapid tests that have been distributed this month alone.

Biden said the federal government would be procuring an additional 500,000 at-home tests to distribute to people’s homes at no charge.

“It’s been a long road, but we’ll get through this is everybody does their part,” said Biden. “No matter where you live, no matter your political party, we’ve got to fight this together.”

THE LARGER TREND

The importance of vaccinations in particular was driven home recently when New York Governor Kathy Hochul mandated that all healthcare workers in the state get a booster shot, a measure still pending approval from the New York Public Health and Health Planning Council.

According to comments made by Hochul at a recent press conference, hospitalizations in the state stand at nearly 11,600, and statewide deaths continue to rise, with 155 deaths reported in one day last week. The new mandate comes months after Hochul issued an executive order declaring a statewide disaster emergency due to healthcare staffing shortages.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for all adults ages 18 and older in November. And this month, it authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 booster shots for children 12 to 15 years old.

Additionally, the FDA shortened the time between the completion of primary vaccination of the Pfizer offering and a booster dose to at least five months. The new guidance also allows for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years old.

Nationally, the U.S. has struggled to shake the pandemic, which is currently experiencing yet another surge. The Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker shows the country’s 28-day case total at about 12.8 million, bringing the overall total to more than 63 million. In the past 28 days, 40,417 Americans have died of COVID-19 or a combination of the coronavirus and other comorbidities.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: [email protected]

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