On Thursday, President Joe Biden spoke to the nation about his plan to battle the Omicron coronavirus variant this winter.
Notably, lockdowns and vaccine mandates are not part of the plan.
Instead, he outlined several measures intended to prevent virus spread and cases of severe infection that could potentially overwhelm healthcare systems nationwide.
A major focus of the Biden administration is expanding outreach and access to COVID-19 booster shots.
“First is expanding the nationwide booster campaign with more outreach, more appointments, more hours, more times and sites to walk in,” Biden said.
Robert Glatter, MD, an emergency physician at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline that a booster dose could significantly increase protection against the new Omicron variant, although research is still ongoing.
“The addition of the third dose of an mRNA vaccine helps to significantly boost levels of neutralizing antibodies to confront the threat of Omicron’s potential immune escape or evasion,” he said.
Biden’s plan also includes launching new family vaccination clinics that make it easier for whole families to be vaccinated at one place, and a new policy called “test to stay” to keep children in school instead of quarantining at home.
Test to stay will allow students to remain in class and be tested frequently, rather than sent home, when someone tests positive in class and it isn’t them.
“The CDC is looking into this so once we have guidance from them, we can decide what is the best route,” said Nikhil Bhayani, MD, an infectious disease expert at Texas Health Resources.
“For sure, after an exposure, frequent testing and masking would be better than quarantining as long as more children over 5 years old get the vaccine,” he said.
The Biden plan will also mandate that private insurers cover the cost of at-home testing, so people don’t have to pay out of pocket for the over-the-counter COVID-19 tests.
“So that if you’re one of the 150 million Americans with private health insurance, next month your plan will cover at-home tests,” said Biden.
Biden pointed out that people without private insurance will be taken care of under the plan.
“Now, for people not covered by private insurance, we’re going to make available free tests at thousands of convenient locations — locations for folks to pick them up and take a test kit home,” he said.
Additionally, the administration will increase the number of surge reponse teams.
The surge response teams provide needed staff for staff overruns at hospitals that have more patients than available staff to care for them.
“They help provide lifesaving treatments in communities in need, like monoclonal antibody treatments,” Biden said.
According to Biden, there are currently 20 such teams, and that number will rise to 60 going into winter.
Biden said they will work to increase the availability of key medications to treat COVID-19, including monoclonal antibodies.
“Monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 70 percent and —for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease,” he said of that treatment.
According to the president, more than 3 million courses of these treatments have already been distributed.
He also mentioned new antiviral pills including the recent Merck pill molnupiravir that was authorized for use by the FDA to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
“And like with the distribution of the vaccines, we will ensure that these medications will be available to the most affected communities in America as well,” he said.
Another strategy the administration will use to beat back the pandemic includes “vaccinating the world.”
Biden pointed out that COVID-19 and the Delta variant emerged outside the United States, and to defeat the pandemic, “we need to go to where it came [from].”
“We’ll accelerate the delivery of more vaccines to countries that need it, pledging to deliver 200 million doses — more doses within the next 100 days — on our way to delivering more than 1,200,000,000 doses to the rest of the world,” said Biden.
Glatter confirmed that vaccinating the world could help reduce the chances of new variants arising, like Omicron.
“Global vaccine equity is an issue that can change the trajectory of the pandemic,” said Glatter. “Helping to bring it under control and slow transmission, mutations, and the subsequent variants that arise.”
He added that the United States “must” focus on vaccinating lower income and under-resourced countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.
“We must make this commitment as a country, and it must be a common goal among all nations. At this point, we have more than 5 million deaths globally. How many more deaths can we tolerate going forward into 2022?” Glatter said.
A key point in the new plan involves stricter testing requirements for international travelers arriving in the United States.
Previously, inbound travelers to the United States were required to test negative for COVID-19 within 3 days of travel. Under the Biden plan, both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers must test negative within 1 day of departure, regardless of nationality.
“This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant,” Biden said.
President Biden outlined his winter plan against the pandemic, which he assured Americans will not involve lockdowns or closing businesses, but will keep schools open.
According to the president, his plan will instead rely on stricter testing and improved access to vaccines and drugs to treat COVID-19, along with significant increases in vaccine shipments overseas.
Experts say that vaccination is crucial to both prevent disease and new, potentially dangerous variants like Omicron from arising in the future.