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President Joe Biden plans to combat the Omicron variant by using the military to ramp up hospital staffing, adding vaccination sites and getting free at-home COVID-19 test kits into the hands of Americans.

Biden’s plan, released Tuesday, will mobilize an additional 1,000 troops, as needed, to COVID-19-burdened hospitals during January and February. The additional troops will include military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel. 

Emergency-response teams will be sent to states hard hit by the pandemic. Six emergency response teams, with more than 100 clinical personnel and paramedics, will be sent to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. This is in addition to the 300 federal medical personnel deployed since Omicron became a threat.

To transport patients to other facilities when hospitals are full, ambulance and emergency medical teams are being deployed: 30 paramedics are heading to New Hampshire, 30 to Vermont and 20 to Arizona. Thirty ambulances are headed to New York and eight to Maine, the White House said. 

To expand hospital capacity through federal dollars, the government has helped hospitals license more beds through two new medical surge facilities in Shreveport, Louisiana, plus additional beds in Baltimore, Maryland, and the expansion of ICUs and ERs in Fresno, California.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is being directed to activate additional staffing and capacity for the National Response Coordination Center to mobilize planning teams to work with states and territories to assess hospital needs ahead of winter surges.

The Administration said it is also continuing to provide 100% federal reimbursement to states for all COVID-19 emergency-response costs.

Through FEMA, the federal government will add vaccination clinics to the 10,000 vaccination sites added this fall for a total of 90,000 locations nationwide.

Other efforts include deploying ventilators to states from supplies from the Strategic Stockpile and, starting in January, distributing free rapid at-home tests by request to Americans through the purchase of a half billion of these tests. 

WHY THIS MATTERS

Hospitals and physicians reacted positively to the news that the federal government is intervening in the staffing-shortage crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack said, “The AHA welcomes President Biden and his Administration joining us in sounding the alarm over the national workforce crisis facing America’s hospitals and health systems, along with the need to respond to the impact of the current surge and the urgent need to get everyone fully vaccinated and boosted. After nearly two years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic and going absolutely full throttle, our nation’s healthcare professionals have been pushed to the brink but continue to step up each and every day.”

Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, president of the American Medical Association, said, “As cases of COVID-19 sharply increase due to the Omicron variant, the nation’s healthcare system and capacity to deliver care is once again being put under stress. The Biden Administration’s announcement today to deploy additional medical personnel to COVID-burdened hospitals and stand up new mass-vaccination sites across the country will help alleviate some of the burden on the nation’s already-overwhelmed healthcare workforce.”
 
THE LARGER TREND

Both the AHA and AMA urged the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and the vaccinated to get booster shots to combat the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The unvaccinated remain most at risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death, if infected, Harmon said. 

“Physicians and healthcare professionals throughout the country and around the world continue to see the heartbreaking and deadly toll this virus is having on patients, especially the unvaccinated,” Harmon said. 

Seventy-three percent of American adults are fully vaccinated, according to the White House. 

Individual states have called in the National Guard to supplement staffing, especially at vaccination sites.

Biden’s plan builds on the President’s Winter Plan, which has made more than 60 emergency-response team deployments.

ON THE RECORD

“Today’s actions will mitigate the impact unvaccinated individuals have on our healthcare system, while increasing access to free testing and getting more shots in arms to keep people safe and our schools and economy open,” the White House said.

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



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