Hospitals will get staff reinforcements, Federal Emergency Management Agency aid and additional personal protective equipment to help fight the latest COVID-19 wave under an expanded pandemic response strategy the White House unveiled Tuesday.
An additional 1,000 military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other personnel will be deployed to hospitals in January and February as needed, according to a fact sheet. The federal government will dispatch emergency response teams first to Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin.
President Joe Biden outlined the latest steps to combat the pandemic in a speech Tuesday "The federal government's paying for all this, period," he said.
FEMA will work with states and territories to determine what hospitals need and to expand bed capacity. The agency can deploy and finance ambulances and emergency medical teams to help transport patients to alternate facilities when other hospitals fill up.
"Today's actions will help hospitals and their caregivers continue to provide the care their patients and communities depend on. We continue to urge the administration to use all available tools at their disposal and not leave any resources or support on the sidelines," American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement.
Federal authorities have stockpiled N95 masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators across the country so they can be quickly delivered to hospitals when necessary.
This latest plan, an extension of Biden's winter strategy, comes as the omicron variant emerges as the country's dominant COVID-19 strand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omicron likely spreads faster than other variants, but it's still unclear whether it causes more or less severe illnesses. The CDC recommends all eligible people get vaccinated and receive booster shots.
"If you're not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned. You're at a high risk of getting sick," Biden said.
Biden also plans to deliver free at-home rapid tests on request and will set up a website where U.S. residents can order kits. Federal authorities also will set up new testing sites, starting in New York, where the virus has surged in recent days. The administration will invoke the Defense Production Act to bolster testing supplies.
FEMA plans to set up temporary vaccination clinics, including mobile units. The Health and Human Services Department will allow pharmacists and pharmacy interns to administer a wider set of vaccines across state lines, and pharmacy capacity will be increased.
This article has been updated with quotations from President Joe Biden and the American Hospital Association.