President Joe Biden said that the omicron variant of the coronavirus will result in more “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated Americans — “potentially in large numbers” — but that they are unlikely to be severely ill.
Especially for people with booster shots, he said in a speech at the White House Tuesday, a breakthrough infection mostly likely will mean “no symptoms” or mild disease. He noted that former President Donald Trump said publicly he’d received a booster — “maybe one of the few things he and I agree on,” he said.
For the unvaccinated, however, the president warned that a winter of severe illness and death awaits.
“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned,” Biden said. “You have a high risk of getting sick, and if you get sick, you’re likely to spread it to others — including friends and family. And the unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in the hospital or even dying.”
Biden outlined a new strategy to curb the impact of omicron, which has quickly become the dominant U.S. strain. The administration will order 500 million at-home tests to ship free to Americans, dispatch 1,000 members of the military to support hospitals and set up new testing and vaccination sites.
The president also encouraged schools, many of which have recently chosen to close early for the holidays after outbreaks among students and staff, to adopt so-called “test-to-stay” strategies to keep children in class.
“We can keep our K through 12 schools open, that’s exactly what we should be doing,” he said.
The 500 million tests will be available starting in January, and will be shipped free to Americans who request them. It’s not clear how many will be immediately available.
The White House will also open new federal testing locations, including in New York City this week. The U.S. will deploy 1,000 troops to COVID-burdened hospitals, and Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help hospitals add new beds as needed.
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