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President Biden admitted on Wednesday that his administration should have put more of an emphasis on COVID-19 testing last year.
“Should we have done more testing earlier?” Biden said at the White House during a press conference marking his first year in office. “Yes, but we’re doing more now.”
On Tuesday, the White House launched a website that allows Americans to order four free COVID-19 tests. The administration says the tests will ship later in January.
The White House was initially dismissive of the need for more tests as the Omicron surge began. On Dec. 6, press secretary Jen Psaki mocked the idea of mailing free tests to all Americans. On Dec. 23, Vanity Fair reported that the White House had rejected a plan in October to follow other countries in making rapid at-home tests easily accessible.
Biden began changing his tune on testing and admitting mistakes in late December. “It’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough. If we’d have known, we’d have gone harder, quicker if we could have,” Biden said of the nation’s testing capacity at a virtual meeting with governors last month.
The administration also announced on Wednesday that it plans to distribute 400 million free N95 masks at the nation’s pharmacies and community health centers. The news came just days after an anonymous senior official dismissed the notion of sending free masks to Americans in an interview with Politico.
Public health officials have been critical of the slow response by the administration in distributing tests and masks. The new efforts come as Omicron may be on the verge of peaking in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also been criticized for its muddled messaging.
During his press conference, Biden otherwise touted his administration’s efforts on the pandemic and attempted to pitch optimism.
“COVID-19 is not going to go away immediately,” he added, “but I’m not going to give up and accept things as they are now. Some people may call what’s happening now the new normal, but I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better.”