Biden outlines COVID plans, says it’s time to get back to work

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday “it’s time for Americans to get back to work” as he announced new efforts to get people back to their normal lives safely after two years of pandemic disruption. .

Biden used his State of the Union address to announce that his administration was launching a “test to treat” initiative to provide free antiviral pills at pharmacies to those who test positive for the virus.

He also highlighted the progress made on the pandemic since last year, with cases dramatically reduced, vaccines and tests readily available, and new therapies soon becoming more accessible.

“Tonight, I can say we are moving forward safely, returning to more normal routines,” Biden said. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

His comments come ahead of the White House releasing a new “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan” on Wednesday. The White House said it would be “a roadmap that will allow us to safely move forward, sustain and build on the progress we have made over the past 13 months.”

In his Tuesday remarks, Biden said that in addition to launching the new antiviral initiative, his administration would allow people in the United States to order another round of free tests from the government.

An antiviral pill from Pfizer has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 by 90%. By the end of the month, according to the administration, 1 million pills will be available, with double that ready for use in April.

A White House official said the “test to treat” plan will initially be rolled out to hundreds of pharmacies across the country, including CVS, Walgreens and Kroger locations. Those who test positive at the sites will be able to obtain the antiviral pills on site for immediate use.

Biden said starting next week, the administration will make four additional free tests available to U.S. households through, which has sent more than 270 million free tests to nearly 70 million households since its launch. launch in mid-January.

COVID-19 cases have fallen to their lowest level since last summer in recent weeks, after a winter spike in the highly transmissible omicron variant. Deaths, however, which are weeks behind cases, are still high, with an average of nearly 1,700 people dying in the United States every day. US officials point out that most cases of serious illness and death in the United States occur in people who have not been vaccinated or who have not received a booster dose of vaccines.

Earlier Tuesday, Biden extended 100% federal reimbursement of COVID-19 emergency response costs to states, tribes and territories through July 1, the White House announced Tuesday.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told governors on a conference call that Biden approved expanding support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help continue FEMA-backed efforts. such as vaccination clinics, mass testing sites, and increasing hospital resources to deal with local case spikes.

“FEMA’s priority throughout the COVID-19 response has been to coordinate and provide the necessary resources and personnel needed by states, tribes and territories to adequately respond to the pandemic,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “Today’s extension of 100% cost sharing through July 1, 2022 builds on our efforts to help affected communities at the state and federal levels.”

The extension in the first half of the year is a sign that the White House continues to see a need for federal resources in the fight against COVID-19 even as Biden tries to guide the country to live with it. the coronavirus as the number of cases decreases.

Recent examples of FEMA funding include $1.2 million given to Ball State University in Indiana last month to cover on-campus testing and $91.8 million to Wisconsin to reimburse testing costs. COVID-19 and the increase in staff in treatment centers.

Biden, a Democrat, first signed an order directing FEMA to cover 100% of the state’s coronavirus-related emergency costs on his second day in office through September 2021. He then did so. extended until the end of 2021 and again until April 1.

Maria D. Ervin