'This is a critical moment': Biden provides update on threat of omicron variant

Posted at 6:24 AM, Dec 21, 2021

President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Americans to hang tight as health experts brace for a surge of new COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

"I know you're tired, I know you're frustrated, but we're still in it. This is a critical moment...this holiday season, I want you all to keep the faith," he said.

Biden said Tuesday that while Americans should be vigilant of the threat caused by the omicron variant, he did not see the U.S. returning to the widespread shutdowns that were instituted in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This isn't March 2020," Biden said. "We know what's coming...we're ready."

Biden said that people who have been vaccinated and boosted should have sufficient protection from omicron.

"If you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned," he said.

However, he warned that those who have not sought out a shot could be at risk.

"If you're not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned," Biden said. "You're at a high risk of getting sick."

Biden also urged parents to seek vaccinations for their children, noting that more than six million kids in the U.S. had safely gotten a shot.

Biden's address came the same day that the White House announced several measures to battle the impending omicron wave, including purchasing 500 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and providing them free of charge by mail to any American who wants one.

With many mass testing sites shut down earlier this year after caseloads dropped, Americans across the country have had trouble finding testing appointments in recent weeks. Many national pharmacy chains have also sold out of at-home rapid tests, and those that are still available are expensive.

Biden pushed back on criticism that his administration failed to offer sufficient testing capacity, saying that "omicron spread more rapidly than anyone would have thought."

The president on Tuesday also ordered the Pentagon to make 1,000 military medical personnel ready for deployment to hospitals across the country in recent months. He also called on that six emergency response teams be deployed to hospitals in six states experiencing severe COVID-19 outbreaks.

Biden also directed FEMA to prepare resources in the event states that need to create more hospital beds to treat additional patients during the pending outbreak.

Finally, Biden said FEMA would set up more pop-up vaccination sites across the country in the hopes of getting more Americans vaccinated and boosted. He also called on national pharmacy chains to add more vaccination appointments and hire more medical professionals to distribute vaccines in the weeks ahead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that omicron represented 73% of all new COVID-19 cases across the country. Omicron was first detected in the U.S. on Dec. 1, and just a week ago, the CDC estimated that the variant was only responsible for 3% of cases across the country.

While much is still to learn about the new variant, early reports indicate that while it is much more transmissible, it likely does not cause as severe an infection as past variants.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a White House medical adviser, has stressed that while the variant evades vaccines at a higher rate, the shots still offer ample protection against the virus, particularly against severe cases.