- The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it will send 1,000 military medical personnel to hospitals in January and February as the omicron variant of the coronavirus sparks renewed fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed.
- The White House also said that clinical response teams with more than 100 clinicians and paramedics will be deployed to six states: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.
- The president is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have planning teams work with states to start expanding hospital bed capacities. FEMA is also on standby to send ambulances to help transport patients to facilities that have an open bed available.
With omicron now the dominant strain in the United States, hospitals are once again bracing for an onslaught of patients — now largely made up of the unvaccinated.
States have mobilized national guards to help keep hospitals staffed as workers themselves are infected. And after nearly two years of being on the front lines of the pandemic, doctors and nurses are reporting record levels of burnout, leaving some to consider leaving the profession altogether.
Hospitals have even taken out advertisements begging for people to get vaccinated and boosted. Many systems, including Cleveland Clinic and Banner Health, are again putting off non-emergency surgeries in order to preserve space, staff and supplies for COVID-19 patients.
The White House response includes sending personnel and medical supplies. More than 300 ventilators were sent to states last week and the Strategic National Stockpile has N-95 masks, gloves and gowns ready to distribute, according to a fact sheet that was released ahead of President Joe Biden's scheduled address Tuesday.
Also, the administration is buying 500 million rapid at-home tests to start delivering for free next month, using the Defense Production Act to speed up manufacturing of the kits. The plan also calls for standing up pop-up vaccination sites and helping pharmacies scale up availability to administer the shots.
Earlier this month, the White House said insurers will be required to pay for at-home tests starting in January. People will have to pay out of pocket and submit the costs for reimbursement, however.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccines are expected to protect against hospitalization and death from the omicron variant, but warned that breakthrough infections will occur. Omicron's spread compared to delta is unknown, as is how severe infection from omicron is. Still, over the course of one week, the omicron variant went from making up 13% of infections in the U.S. to 73%, according to the agency.