- The Biden administration is rolling out several new measures to help the country emerge from the pandemic.
- The plan focuses on increasing vaccination rates, allowing schools to open safely, increasing testing, improving care for people with COVID-19, and boosting the economic recovery.
- The coronavirus is killing more than 1,500 people a day in the U.S.
President Biden laid out a six-step plan to control the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant and get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have the tools to combat the virus,” he said during a press conference today at the White House. “If we can come together as a country and use those tools… we can, and we will, turn the tide on COVID-19.”
The plan focuses on increasing vaccination rates, allowing schools to open safely, increasing testing, improving care for people with COVID-19, and boosting the economic recovery.
In recent weeks, the country’s 7-day daily average of coronavirus cases exceeded 150,000 for the first time since late January, according to New York Times data.
The coronavirus is killing more than 1,500 people a day, with low-vaccinated states such as Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana seeing death rates well above the country’s average.
Hospitals throughout the country are also dealing with a surge of largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
Many intensive care units (ICUs) are at or near capacity. Some hospitals in Idaho, one of the least vaccinated states, have started rationing care amid a COVID-19 surge in the state.
Although face masks and physical distancing can help control transmission of the coronavirus, experts see wide vaccination as the key to ending the pandemic.
In that regard, the United States has fallen behind many other countries.
Only around 62 percent of people in the United States eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — 12 years or older — are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many states in the South and parts of the West have lower vaccination rates, leaving large swathes of their populations at risk of severe illness and hospitalization.
Vaccines for younger children are not expected to be approved until late this year or even later, leaving this age group unprotected.
Today, Biden announced several measures intended to boost the country’s vaccination rates.
Building on an earlier announcement in July, the president signed an executive order requiring all employees of the federal executive branch to be vaccinated.
This order also covers employees of contractors doing business with the federal government.
The Department of Labor is also developing a rule that will require employers with 100 or more employees to require their workforce to be vaccinated. If employees are not vaccinated, they will need to show a negative COVID-19 test at least weekly.
The administration will also develop a rule requiring these employers to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and to recover from vaccination.
Many large U.S. employers already do this, but the new rule will “reduce the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the share of the workforce that is vaccinated,” Biden said during the press conference.
In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will require COVID-19 vaccination for employees of most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid payments.
This includes hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, dialysis facilities, and home healthcare agencies.
Nursing homes that receive federal funds already must have their staff vaccinated.
Biden also called on large entertainment venues, such as sports arenas and concert halls, to require patrons to be vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
In addition, Biden asked physicians to reach out to their unvaccinated patients over the next 2 weeks and encourage them to roll up their sleeves.
“You’re the most trusted medical voice to your patients,” Biden said. “You may be the one person who can get someone to change their mind about being vaccinated.”
Dr. Henry I. Miller, a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, said more effort needs to be made to reach unvaccinated people through public service announcements.
Given that many unvaccinated people lean right politically, Miller also hopes more conservatives follow the lead of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in March encouraged all Republican men to get vaccinated.
“It would help in particular if more conservatives were to get on that bandwagon. Some have, and that’s been very welcome,” Miller said. “But the conservative media has not been particularly aggressive in doing that. I hope that will change.”
While COVID-19 vaccines protect against severe illness and hospitalization, recent data shows there’s some drop in protection against infection over several months.
The Biden administration previously announced plans to begin a rollout of COVID-19 boosters as early as Sept. 20. However, this hinges on reviews of booster data by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC.
Biden recommitted during today’s press conference to following the lead of these agencies on which people will need an additional dose and when.
However, “[the federal government] has bought enough booster shots, and the distribution system is ready to administer them,” he said. “As soon as [boosters] are authorized, those eligible will be able to get a booster right away.”
Boosters will be available for free to eligible people at pharmacies and other sites throughout the country.
As schools reopened in recent weeks, a record number of children have been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to CDC data.
While children are less likely than adults to develop severe illness, at least 520 children have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
“For any parent, it doesn’t matter how low the risk of any illness or accident is when it comes to your child or grandchild,” Biden said.
The president encouraged parents with children 12 years or older to get them vaccinated.
For families with younger children, he said everyone in the household who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine should get vaccinated.
The president’s plan also calls for additional actions to ensure that all schools implement measures known to protect children from the coronavirus.
This includes indoor masking, maintaining physical distance, improving ventilation, and regular screening and testing for students and school staff.
Miller pointed to a
“That just should not happen,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen in schools, and it shouldn’t happen in long-term care facilities.”
Ken Thorpe, PhD, a professor of health policy at Emory University, said ventilation in schools is essential, and one tool that’s often overlooked.
“The fact that [this technology] is not in every school system in this country, particularly in elementary school systems, is beyond me,” he said.
Biden’s plan will also require all teachers and staff of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs to be vaccinated.
Likewise, teachers and staff at schools overseen by the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Education will need to be vaccinated.
In addition, Biden called on states to require school employees to be vaccinated.
Although the federal government cannot force states to follow through with this, Biden said the Department of Education will use its legal authority to ensure that students can attend schools in person.
This includes taking legal action against states that have prohibited schools from requiring students and staff to wear masks.
The United States has not used COVID-19 testing as widely as other countries.
The administration’s plan will try to change that by increasing production of test kits and making at-home testing more affordable.
The plan commits $2 billion to purchase at-home rapid test kits for distribution to community health centers, food banks, and schools, “so that every American, no matter their income, can access free and convenient tests,” Biden said.
The administration has also worked out a deal with Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger to offer at-home test kits at cost for the next 3 weeks.
Face masks will continue to be required on federal property and on certain airplanes, trains, and intercity bus services.
In addition, the plan will double the fine for people who refuse to wear masks on these types of public transportation.
To help the economy continue to recover, Biden announced additional support for small businesses affected by COVID-19, including long-term, low-cost loans.
“I’ll also be taking additional steps to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic,” he said.
In July, the administration began sending Surge Response Teams to parts of the country hard-hit by COVID-19. Since then, nearly 1,000 emergency medical technicians, nurses, and doctors have been deployed to 18 states.
These teams will continue to support states having surges of COVID-19 patients.
The administration will also increase shipments of monoclonal antibody treatment to states. This treatment is given to patients early during a coronavirus infection to help reduce the severity of their illness.
The administration is expected to announce additional steps in the coming weeks to address the pandemic in the United States.
In closing, Biden acknowledged that communities of color in the United States have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
“As we continue to battle COVID-19, we will ensure that equity continues to be at the center of our response,” he said. “We’ll ensure that everyone is reached.”