WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will deliver remarks Tuesday on the federal response to the ongoing surge in Covid cases, urging the public to get vaccinated and wear masks and reassuring Americans that those who are fully vaccinated and boosted are not likely to have severe symptoms.
Biden will make the remarks following an update from his Covid response team on the latest data on the omicron variant and what resources and personnel are being sent to states to help hospitals running low on beds, supplies, and staffing, said a White House official. Biden will also give an update on what his team is doing to expand access to Covid treatments, which have been in short supply.
“In brief remarks, the President will address the American people on these updates, as well as the importance of continuing to use the tools we know protect the American people — vaccines, boosters and masking,” said a White House official.
The U.S. hit 1 million new Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to data compiled by NBC News, underscoring the threat of the omicron variant as the third year of the pandemic gets underway. Omicron represents 95 percent of new Covid cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden’s remarks on the pandemic, his first since Dec. 28, come as the omicron variant has forced business and schools to close with cases more than tripling over the past month. While hospitalizations haven’t increased at the same rate, the increase has been enough to leave hospitals across the country struggling to care for the latest surge in patients. Deaths have remained relatively unchanged at around 1,100 though they have been a lagging indicator during past surges.
The U.S. health care system has been struggling over the past month to respond to the surge in cases with shortages of tests, treatments and staff.
Rapid at-home tests have been in short supply with production not expected to significantly ramp up until February or March based on projections from test makers. Biden has promised to send 500 million free at-home tests to people’s homes, but that effort could take months to achieve. Patients have had to wait days for laboratory test results in hardest-hit areas with labs running at capacity.
Supplies of Covid treatments have also been constrained. Some hospitals have stopped giving out monoclonal antibody therapies or have been rationing them for only the most high-risk patients because the only monoclonal antibody therapy that appears to work against the omicron variant has been in very limited supply.
The federal government has been deploying federal personnel to help relieve strained hospitals. Total hospitalizations in the U.S. have reached the levels seen during the summer surge, but remain below where they were during last winter’s surge with 62 percent of the population fully vaccinated.
Public health officials have said people who are vaccinated and boosted are significantly less likely to be hospitalized and die. The vast majority of those hospitalized and dying have been unvaccinated.