WASHINGTON, DC — President Joe Biden is kicking off a more urgent campaign for Americans to get Covid-19 booster shots.
Biden on Thursday unveiled a winter plan to combat the coronavirus and its Omicron variant with enhanced availability of shots and vaccines but without major new restrictions.
Biden will require private insurers to cover the cost of at-home Covid-19 tests and to tighten testing requirements for people entering the U.S. regardless of their vaccination status.
Biden's administration also says it's making 50 million Covid-19 tests free for older people and other vulnerable groups for pickup at senior centers and community sites.
Biden detailed the administration's plan in remarks at the National Institutes of Health, after officials confirmed the second recorded case of the Omicron variant in the United States.
"While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic," Biden reiterated. "We have the tools we need to confront this variant, to keep making progress in our fight against the virus, and we are using these tools to keep people safe, keep our schools open and protect our economy."
Here are more details on the president's plan:
Guidance for international and domestic travel
Building on new travel restrictions from regions affected by the spread of the Omicron variant earlier this week, Biden announced new steps tightening pre-departure Covid-testing protocol for all inbound international travelers, requiring a negative test within one day of departure for the United States.
At this time, any foreign national who travels to the U.S. must be fully vaccinated, though there remains no vaccination requirement for American citizens traveling via air, either globally or domestically.
The administration also formally announced its plan to extend a mask requirement for domestic travel, originally slated to expire in January, until mid-March.
The order, which had already been extended this summer, applies to travel via rail and other public transportation, and comes amid widespread reports of unruly passengers refusing to comply with mask mandates.
Increasing vaccine and booster outreach for seniors and children
Under the plan, the administration is increasing vaccine outreach, including efforts -- in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, AARP and Medicare -- to ensure an estimated 100 million Americans eligible for Covid-19 vaccine boosters get shots as soon as possible, including the launching of a nationwide public education campaign, town halls and offers of rides to vaccine and booster appointments for the nation's "hardest-hit and highest risk older Americans."
The administration also unveiled steps aimed at increasing vaccination rates among children in an effort to keep schools open and protect children ages 5 and up from contracting Covid-19.
"To date, we have already vaccinated over 4 million 5- to 11-year-olds and 15 million adolescents. Vaccinating our kids protects them, keeps schools open, and protects everyone around them," the White House detailed in a fact sheet shared with reporters.
As part of those efforts, the administration is launching "family vaccination clinics" aimed at offering vaccines and boosters for entire families at once, with the Health Resources and Services Administration offering "Family Vaccination Days" at participating community health centers across the country and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offering mobile vaccination clinics to reach hard-to-reach communities. The administration is also issuing a "Safe School Checklist" so schools can safely encourage vaccination and booster efforts and avoid outbreaks in schools through new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on quarantining and testing.
Biden also announced further actions to export vaccines, including 200 million more doses in the next 100 days, accelerating delivery to high-risk countries, while ramping up vaccine manufacturing to increase global production capacity.
Expanding testing and outbreak response efforts
Biden's announcement also detailed new steps to increase Covid testing, including the news that private insurers will be required to reimburse the costs of at-home tests for more than 150 million Americans covered by private insurance. In addition, community sites like health centers and rural clinics will offer free at-home tests for those not covered by private insurance, doubling a September pledge to offer 25 million free tests to community sites to 50 million tests.
The President announced more than 60 winter Covid emergency response team deployments available to states to combat outbreaks and rising Covid-19 cases nationally, expanding a program from the summer and fall.
"Response teams have helped 27 states and two territories respond to the Delta surge by addressing critical needs on the ground," a senior administration official told reporters.
"To date, we have deployed over 2,000 personnel, surged over 3,200 ventilators and other supplies, and shipped over 2.3 million courses of the lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments. As we face the new variants and rising cases during the winter months tomorrow, the President will renew the federal government's commitment help with surges and help our states," the official added.