Biden Just Announced Free Masks and Tests

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President Joe Biden today delivered remarks about his whole-of-government response to the pandemic as the Omicron variant pushes cases past record highs, leading to massive hospitalizations, despite the strain being "less severe." I know we're all frustrated as we enter this new year — the Omicron variant is causing millions of cases and record hospitalizations," he said, imploring Americans to get vaccinated and boosted to protect themselves from a severe outcome. "Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are testing positive, but what happens after that could not be more different." He also announced a number of new initiatives. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Free, "High-Quality" Masks are Coming

Medic, nurse with face mask and blue nitride gloves sharing a N95 mask.
Medic, nurse with face mask and blue nitride gloves sharing a N95 mask.

"I know that for some Americans, a mask is not always affordable or convenient to get, so next week we will announce how we are making high-quality masks available to the American people for free," Biden said in remarks from the White House. "I know we all wish could finally be done with wearing masks, I get it, but they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the highly transmissible Omicron variant." No word when they will be available, or if they will be N95 masks, which are considered the most protective.

2

Free COVID Tests are Coming

People in protective suits and masks delivering vaccine of coronavirus.
People in protective suits and masks delivering vaccine of coronavirus.

Biden is purchasing an additional 500 million coronavirus tests for distribution to Americans. "That will mean a billion tests in total to meet future demand," Mr. Biden said. "And we'll continue to work with the retailers and online retailers to increase availability." You'll be able to order them from a website soon, but the exact timing is unclear.

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3

Biden is Sending Military Medical Teams to 6 Hospitals

Two doctors wearing personal personal protective equipment
Two doctors wearing personal personal protective equipment

"When you need something done, call in the military," Biden said. "The military medical teams will support the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital outside Detroit, University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Biden said," according to CNN. "These teams will be providing relief, triaging patients, helping to decompress overwhelmed emergency departments, and freeing up health care providers to continue other lifesaving care. They will be working alongside health care workers on the front lines to give them the support they need," a White House official said on Monday night. "To the military medical teams on the ground, thank you for all everything you're doing," the president said.

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4

Omicron is Surging Bigtime, Putting You at Risk

Nurse is comforting a covid patient at the ICU
Nurse is comforting a covid patient at the ICU

"The current seven day daily average of cases is about 751,000 cases per day, an increase of about 47% over the previous week," said CDC Chief Rochelle Walensky yesterday. "The seven day average of hospital admissions is about 19,000 to 800 per day, an increase of about 33% over the prior week. And the seven day average of daily deaths are about 1,600 per day, which is an increase of about 40% over the previous week." She said this is likely due to deaths caused by the Delta variant. "Over the past several weeks, we have seen the number of daily cases increase substantially. The magnitude of this increase is largely related to the Omicron variant, which now represents about 98% of the COVID 19 cases in the country."

"We must do—all of us—do our part to protect our hospitals and our neighbors and reduce the further spread of this virus. As you've heard me say before, we know what works against COVID-19. This means getting vaccinated and getting boosted, wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of high transmission—and currently that's over 99% of our counties—and testing before you gather with others."

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5

How to Stay Safe Out There

Female patient smiling behind the face mask and with her eyes, while getting flu shot
Female patient smiling behind the face mask and with her eyes, while getting flu shot

"The sudden and steep rise in cases due to Omicron is resulting in unprecedented daily case counts, sickness, absenteeism, and strains on our health care system," Dr. Walensky said. Protect yourself. Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.