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Biden's TOUGHER rules to fight Omicron: Travelers to US must test negative 24 hours before flight

President said Thursday he hopes his new coronavirus plan could 'put the divisiveness behind us,' as he called for more testing, urged booster shots, and new testing requirements for international travelers. He joked that Dr. Anthony Fauci was president

International travelers coming to the United States from anywhere in the world including American citizens will now have to show proof of a negative covid test taken within 24 hours of their departure, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday.

The new plan, going into effect 'early next week,' makes no exceptions for vaccination status.  

'This tighter testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant,' he said.  

However, the announcement was vague over whether travelers will have to take a PCR test - which could take days to produce a result - or if rapid tests will be acceptable. 

Biden flew to the National Institutes of Health to spell out new efforts to provide boosters, more testing, and vaccines to combat covid and the Omicron variant – and said he 'strongly' supports a review of getting jabs to children under 5.  

The president said Americans should be prepared for a rise in coronavirus cases over the winter, but maintained it should simply be a cause for concern rather than panic.

His administration is rolling out a multi-faceted approach to tackle the pandemic after cases of the Omicron variant were detected in California and Minnesota.

That could potentially include further restrictions on domestic travel – asked today about the possibility of a ban on unvaccinated domestic flyers, White House Press Secretary said 'nothing is off the table.'

Mask-wearing will also be required in all mass transit hubs and airports until March 18. The mandate had been set to expire on January 18.

Biden flew to the National Institutes of Health to spell out new efforts to provide boosters, more testing, and vaccines to combat covid and the Omicron variant – and said he 'strongly' supports a review of getting jabs to children under the age of five.

He also introduced stricter guidelines for international travelers - including a COVID test within 24 hours of their flight to the U.S. - extended mask mandates on public transport until March 2022, and said insurers would cover the cost of at-home tests for Americans.

His speech came an hour after the CDC confirmed a second case of the Omicron super-strain had been found in the US, this time in a vaccinated Minnesota man who attended an anime convention in New York last month. The first was detected in California on Wednesday.

The Omicron super variant is at least 2.4 times more likely to reinfect someone than the original strain, according to the first real-world data coming out of South Africa where it is fuelling a meteoric rise in infections.

Government researchers say there has been 35,670 reinfections since the beginning of the pandemic and the risk of reinfection fell to 0.7 during the Beta-fuelled second wave last winter and the third Delta surge this summer compared to the first wave.

South Africa has experienced a massive surge in Covid cases since the variant was first discovered, with the nation reporting 11,535 new cases on Thursday after averaging less than 500 new cases per day only two weeks ago.

The news of the variant's spread in the U.S. comes on the heels of a holiday party in Norway that is believed to be the largest Omicron variant outbreak to date, with at least 50 vaccinated attendees testing positive.

Biden has said the emergence of the new variant should not cause panic and insisted it will be beaten by more Americans getting boosters and vaccines and wearing masks indoors.

Republicans in recent days have attacked Fauci for thinking he is 'The Science' after claiming any criticism of him is 'dangerous'.

What's in Biden's Winter COVID plan? 

Boosters for All Adults 

Vaccinations to Protect Our Kids and Keep Our Schools Open 

Expanding Free At-Home Testing for Americans 

Stronger Public Health Protocols for Safe International Travel 

Protections in Workplaces to Keep Our Economy Open 

Rapid Response Teams to Help Battle Rising Cases 

Supplying Treatment Pills to Help Prevent Hospitalizations and Death 

Continued Commitment to Global Vaccination Efforts 

Steps to Ensure We Are Prepared for All Scenarios 

He also used his speech to attack the political conflict that has arisen with COVID, saying: 'This is a moment when we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope'.

'This variant is a cause for concern, but not panic,' Biden assured. 'We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.' 

'The actions I'm announcing are ones all Americans can rally behind, and should unite us against covid-19.'

In perhaps a jab to his predecessor, Biden said: 'We're better positioned than we were a year ago to fight covid-19.'

Biden also emphasized that his plan 'doesn't include shutdowns or lockdowns,' but the White House has left the door open for more restrictions and European nations such as Germany and the UK have already reacted with more restrictions.

He did not mention other controversial proposals, such as imposing a quarantine on incoming international travelers – an idea that got floated publicly but was left out. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Thursday that 'nothing is off the table' when asked about vaccine requirements for domestic travel.

The president said parents came up to him at Wednesday night's White House Hanukkah ceremony. He said parents were asking when they can get shots for three three year olds, with the government only approving shots for those over five right now.

The new requirements on travelers are, at least for now, stricter than some of the country's allies.

In the United Kingdom for example, fully-vaccinated travelers except for those coming from certain designated countries only need to take a covid PCR test on the second day of their trip. They're required to isolate until they get a negative result.

The day 2 testing requirement only sprung up earlier this week over Omicron concerns. 

However Ireland is choosing to take a stricter approach, requiring all fully-vaccinated arrivals to produce a negative antigen test within 48 hours before arrival or a negative PCR test within 72. Unvaccinated travelers only have the PCR option.

In South Africa, where the variant was first detected last week, more than 11,000 cases were recorded on Thursday - only two weeks after the nation was posting a daily average of less than 500

Did business trip to South Africa spark world's biggest Omicron outbreak? Staff had recently returned to Norway before Christmas party that left 50-60 vaccinated colleagues out of 120 infected 

Scatec business development analyst Marta Zlotkowska was among staff who had recently returned from South Africa. There is no suggestion she was infected before the party

A business trip to South Africa may have sparked the world's biggest Omicron outbreak after between 50 and 60 vaccinated people were infected at a Christmas party in Norway.

Scatec staff had recently returned from South Africa, where the super-mutant strain was first discovered, before the meal at Louise Restaurant & Bar in Aker Brygge on Oslo's waterfront on Friday.

Business development analyst Marta Zlotkowska posted pictures of Table Mountain and a view from an airplane window from a visit to Scatec's Cape Town office three weeks ago on Instagram and captioned it 'simply love my job'.

There was no suggestion Ms Zlotkowska brought the Omicron variant back to Norway but yesterday it appeared she was among those isolating following the outbreak as she posted a video on Instagram captioned 'Quarantine Day #2'.

Fifty people tested positive with a PCR test and 10 with a lateral flow following the party, though so far none is thought to be seriously ill.

Oslo authorities today confirmed one positive Omicron case following the company Christmas party and said more infections were 'expected'.

Scatec has insisted only vaccinated employees were allowed to attend the party and they needed a negative test result beforehand.

Norwegian epidemiologists had earlier ruled out the possibility the infections are Delta variant cases and said there was a 'high probability' it was Omicron.   

The Christmas party was held in a closed room but the guests reportedly mingled with other people in the restaurant after 10:30pm, when it turned into a nightclub. 

At least two restaurant guests not involved in the Christmas party also later tested positive, though it is not yet clear if they were infected at the event or from a different contact. 

Ten waiters who served the table were tested after the party, but none have tested positive. But one of the company's super-spreaders was also drinking in an Irish bar in the city the following night, raising fears more could be infected. 

The Christmas party was held in a closed room but the guests reportedly mingled with other people in the restaurant after 10:30pm, when it turned into a nightclub (pictured, inside Louise Restaurant & Bar) 

Over 71 per cent of Norway's population are fully vaccinated, higher than the 69 per cent of Brits and 59 per cent of Americans who have had both jabs. 

Tine Ravlo, assistant chief infection control doctor in Frogner District, said a preliminary screening of the cases' samples showed it was likely it was Omicron. 

She said the samples have been sent for sequencing which will confirm if it is Omicron. 

Head of the infection tracking team in Oslo west, Jorum Thaulow, told Avisa Oslo: 'We have not received it definitively confirmed, but there are very strong indications that it is Omicron in this outbreak.' 

Thaulow said all the cases had been treated as if they had the Omicron variant and told to self-isolate for seven days. At least 41 of those infected live in Oslo.

Authorities scrambled to find close contacts of the employees to get them to quarantine for ten days, warning everyone who was at the Oslo bar between 10:30pm on Friday and 3am on Saturday to isolate.   

At least one of the people infected was out in the community, at the Old Irish Pub at Majorstuen, on Saturday evening and the Oslo Municipality have also encouraged anyone who was there between 10pm and 1am to quarantine. 

'At the moment one person is confirmed as infected with Omicron but more cases are expected,' the city said in a statement.

'We are working actively with contact tracing to limit the spread and prevent bigger outbreaks.' 

The Nordic country on Wednesday detected its first two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere is expected to hold a news conference later on Thursday. 

Travelers wear protective face masks at Denver International Airport on November 30. Starting 'early next week' all travelers coming from outside the US will need to produce a negative coronavirus test taken 24 hours prior to arrival

People riding a New York City subway in November. Biden also announced today that the requirement to wear masks on mass transit and in transport hubs will be extended until March 18 instead of expiring in January

Canada announced on Tuesday that all international arrivals except those coming from the US will have to be tested for covid upon arrival and then forced to isolate until they get a negative result.

France is also stepping up its testing – travelers from outside the European Union will have to present a negative antigen or PCR covid test taken up to 48 hours before their arrival in the country as of December 4. 

Germany only requires US citizens to show proof of vaccination, covid recovery, a negative rapid test result within two days or a negative PCR result within three to enter. Travelers coming from high-risk areas will need to show proof of a negative test regardless of vaccination status. 

While unveiling his plan Biden took a light-hearted break from the concerning news  – joking that it is infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci who is really president. 

'I've seen more Dr. Fauci than I have my wife, we kid each other,' Biden quipped at the top of his remarks. 'Look – who's president? Fauci!' he said – referencing a figure who has advised presidents for decades but also has become a lightning rod for Biden opponents.  

'This is a moment when we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope,' Biden said in his remarks.

He said the new regulations and proposals are 'ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against COVID-19.'

And he emphasized that it 'doesn't include shutdowns or lockdowns.' 

He did not mention other controversial proposals, such as imposing a quarantine on incoming international travelers – an idea that got floated publicly but was left out. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Thursday that 'nothing is off the table' when asked about vaccine requirements for domestic travel.

The president said parents came up to him at Wednesday night's White House Hanukkah ceremony. He said parents were asking when they can get shots for three three year olds, with the government only approving shots for those over five right now. 

'Is she going to be okay?' Biden said a parent asked about a daughter.

'Let me say this: I strongly support the independent scientific review of vaccine uses for children under five,' he said. But he also advised parents: 'The best step is to vaccinate your children. Get them vaccinated.'

The administration also wants to push out more at-home tests – with Americans able to apply for reimbursement from their insurance companies.  

'This winter you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind,' Biden said.

He said the feds would provide free tests for those who don't have insurance.  

And he defended efforts to push out U.S. produced machines to the world. We need to go to where it came from in the rest of the world,' he said, amid reports of the continued spread of Omicron in South Africa, which first announced its appearance last week.

Still, state health officials announced a second case in Minnesota Thursday that could indicate an earlier presence in the U.S, and it has turned up in a host of European countries.

The data out of South Africa is concerning. According to the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), 11,535 new Covid cases were recorded in the last 24 hours – a jump of 368 per cent on last Thursday when 2,465 new infections were registered.

Cases have been soaring in the country since Omicron emerged, which experts say appears to be more infectious than Delta and has mutations that may allow it to dodge vaccine protection.  

Biden also touted new 'surge response teams' who will go out to assist areas that become covid hotspots as the virus spreads. 'These teams work,' he said. 

Biden also touted new rules to 'strengthen the strengthen international travel rules for people coming to United States.' Those will require proof of a negative test 24-hours before departing for the U.S.

But the administration did not opt to require a test upon arrival, or a mandatory quarantine, as some nations require. 

Biden launched a review for vaccinating children under five as he ramps up booster shots as part of his winter COVID plan to tackle the Omicron variant. 

The president will address the nation Thursday afternoon where he will kick off an urgent campaign to get all Americans immunized so that the virus can be combated without more lockdowns.  

All inbound international U.S. passengers must get a test within 24 hours from departure, but the plan made no mention of a seven-day quarantine period for international arrivals. 

Immediately with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Biden restricted travel from eight African nations.

The Biden administration's new plan to fight COVID also emerged just hours before the second U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in Minnesota. The first U.S. case was identified in California, it was confirmed Wednesday. 

One of the most striking proposals in the plan is a push for the Food and Drug Administration to review shots for kids under five shortly after the vaccine was approved for children between the ages of five and 11.

The U.S. would join just a handful of countries which have approved vaccines for children this young: China, Cuba, Argentina and Venezuela. 

The White House says it will provide every resource to the FDA to get shots to the youngest Americans as 'safely and as quickly as possible.' 

In the plan there is a requirement for private insurers to cover at home testing costs.

The administration is also extending the mask mandate for public transport until March 18. Originally, the requirements in airports and in airplanes, buses and trains was set to expire in mid-January, but is again being extended with the emergence of the Omicron variant.

A child receives the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination at the Fairfax County Government Center on November 4 in Annandale, Virginia

The Biden administration has come to view widespread adoption of booster shots as its most effective tool for combating COVID-19 this winter.

Medical experts say boosters provide enhanced and more enduring protection against COVID-19, including new variants.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned Americans that they may need to receive a vaccination for COVID-19 every year to protect against infection – similar to the flu shot.

He also said Wednesday evening during a town hall with CNN's Anderson Cooper that it was too early to tell whether an annual 'booster' will be needed as new variants emerge.

'Anderson, to be honest with you, we don't know,' he said. 'We really don't. You could say we might have this or we might require this, but we don't know.'

'It may be we get a durability of immunity. Or maybe not, and if it is not, we'll have to deal with it depending upon how the outbreak and the global pandemic evolves,' the nation's top immunologist and COVID adviser to the president said.

Fauci also insisted that holiday travel is still safe for the vaccinated.

Much remains unknown about the omicron variant, including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill and whether it can thwart the vaccines.

About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters under current U.S. policy, with more becoming eligible every day.

Convincing those who have already been vaccinated to get another dose, officials believe, will be far easier than vaccinating the roughly 43 million adult Americans who haven't gotten a shot despite widespread public pressure campaigns to roll up their sleeves.

And while Biden's vaccination-or-testing requirement for workers at larger employers has been held up by legal challenges, the president on Thursday will renew his call for businesses to move ahead and impose their own mandates on workers so they can stay open without outbreaks.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) named the Omicron variant as a Variant of Concern. In response, the President took immediate steps to restrict travel from the most impacted countries in order to give the U.S. time to learn more about the variant and prepare.

Since Monday, Biden restricted travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi if the traveler isn't a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Those eligible to enter the United States from those places must test negative for the coronavirus.

When concerns were raised to Fauci that the travel ban would make countries hesitant to report new variants, the doctor said that had some 'merit.'

'We felt, at least I felt, and I know several of the members of the team felt, really badly about that because the South Africans have been extremely transparent and collegial in getting information to us,' Fauci told CNN on Wednesday evening. 'It was a very difficult choice to make because we had no idea what was going on when you saw what was coming out, so we felt it was better to be safe than sorry.'

'And we really are sensitive to and appreciate what the situation is,' he added. 

'I would hope that we'd get enough information soon that we could pull back on that as quickly as possible because you don't want individual countries to feel that when they are honest and transparent that there are negative consequences for them. So I do really feel badly about that.'

In an effort to encourage more people to take the booster doses, the Biden administration is stepping up direct outreach to seniors - the population most vulnerable to the virus.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will send a notice to all 63 million Medicare beneficiaries encouraging them to get booster doses, the White House said. The AARP will work with the administration on education campaigns for seniors.

So far about 42 million Americans, about half of them seniors, have received a booster dose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week broadened its booster dose recommendation to cover all Americans aged at least 18 starting six months after their second dose of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.

The White House said the CDC was also developing new guidance for schools in an effort to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for those are not fully vaccinated and exposed to the virus.

The new policies, which the White House said will be released in the coming weeks, could include so-called 'test-to-stay' policies, in which those who are considered close contacts can continue to go to school but wear masks and undergo serial testing, in a bid to minimize learning loss and disruption.

The administration's upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover at-home testing is still being drafted, and many details remain to be worked out, including under what criteria they will be reimbursable, officials said.

Omicron COVID appeared in Nigeria in OCTOBER - weeks before South Africa announced discovery of variant, new tests reveal

Nigeria has confirmed its first cases of Omicron COVID and revealed it was in the country in October, weeks before South Africa alerted the world to its existence.

Three Omicron cases were detected in travelers who arrived in Nigeria from South Africa within the past week, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control said today.

But Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the agency's director, added that retroactive testing of COVID samples collected in recent weeks had identified another case of Omicron dating back to October.

It means that Omicron - designated a 'variant of concern' by the WHO and believed to be the most-infectious form of COVID yet found - was likely circulating undetected for weeks before first being identified. 

The discovery comes just a day after after Dutch health authorities said they also found a case of Omicron in a sample collected on November 19, four days before South Africa sounded the alarm.

If confirmed, the Nigerian case would be the earliest-known Omicron infection - rewriting the timeline of the variant's origins.

However, it does not necessarily mean the variant emerged in Nigeria because it is unclear how or why the sample was collected. Dr Adetifa did not give details.

Nigeria - in western Africa - extensively tests travelers into and out of the country, meaning it is possible the case was imported from overseas.

Until now, it had been assumed the variant first emerged in southern Africa where it was detected on November 23 by South African scientists in a sample collected from Botswana on November 9.

Nigeria's three recent cases were all in travelers from South Africa who had taken a Day 2 PCR test, with samples collected within the last week.

It is unclear when exactly the samples were collected. Nigeria said efforts are underway to track and isolate the individuals.

Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not be eligible, but the White House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would see easier and cheaper access to the at-home tests.

Beginning next week, the White House said, all travelers to the U.S., regardless of nationality or vaccination status, will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flights.

That's down from three days right now for those who have been vaccinated, in an added precaution against the omicron variant.

But the White House has shelved tougher options, like requiring post-arrival testing or requiring quarantines upon arrival in the U.S.

Biden is also extending his directive requiring masks on airplanes and other public transit, which had been set to expire in January, through at least the middle of March, the White House said.

The administration is also informing states that it has more than 60 teams available to help them or their municipalities address surges in cases and public health shortages heading into the winter, with half aimed at bolstering hospital services and 20 targeted at supporting life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments.

BIDEN'S FULL WINTER COVID PLAN

President Biden Announces New Actions to Protect Americans Against the Delta and Omicron Variants as We Battle COVID-19 this Winter

New Actions Aim to Get Americans Boosted for Even Greater Protection Against the Delta and Omicron Variants, Keep Schools and Businesses Open, and Help Quickly Respond to Surges if Needed During the Colder Months

Today, President Biden will announce new actions to combat COVID-19 as the United States heads into the winter months and with the emergence of a new variant, Omicron.

The United States has come far in its fight against the virus and is more prepared than ever to deal with the challenges of COVID-19. We have the public health tools we need to continue to fight this virus without shutting down our schools and businesses. As we head into winter, today, the President will announce actions to provide additional protection to Americans and fight the Omicron and Delta variants, while keeping our economy growing.

This plan includes:

Boosters for All Adults

Vaccinations to Protect Our Kids and Keep Our Schools Open

Expanding Free At-Home Testing for Americans

Stronger Public Health Protocols for Safe International Travel

Protections in Workplaces to Keep Our Economy Open

Rapid Response Teams to Help Battle Rising Cases

Supplying Treatment Pills to Help Prevent Hospitalizations and Death

Continued Commitment to Global Vaccination Efforts

Steps to Ensure We Are Prepared for All Scenarios

Last week, after the World Health Organization (WHO) named the Omicron variant as a Variant of Concern, the President took immediate steps to restrict travel from the most impacted countries in order to give the U.S. time to learn more about the variant and prepare. We have more tools today to fight the Omicron variant than we have had to fight previous variants, including Delta. Nearly 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, booster shots are authorized for all adults, and a vaccine is authorized for kids aged 5 and older. The U.S. is leading the world in vaccinating children, and millions of Americans have already gotten their boosters. And, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing additional antiviral treatments for when people do get sick.

Today’s actions will ensure we are using these tools as effectively as possible to protect the American people against this variant and to continue to battle the Delta variant during the winter months when viruses tend to thrive. These actions will help keep our economy growing and keep Americans safe from severe COVID-19.

Today, President Biden will announce the following actions:

1. Boosters for All Adults: President Biden will announce new steps to ensure that the nearly 100 million eligible Americans who have not yet gotten their booster shot, get one as soon as possible. As we face the Omicron variant, boosters are more important than ever. Boosters increase the strength of your antibody response, so when the virus mutates, a booster makes it more likely that your antibodies can protect you against the new variant. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance recommending that every adult get a booster. All adults who completed a primary vaccination series with an mRNA vaccine at least six months ago and those who received a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago are eligible for a booster. The Biden Administration has made booster shots free and convenient at over 80,000 locations nationwide. To date, over 41 million Americans have already received a booster shot, including half of eligible seniors. The President will announce additional steps to help in this effort.

- Expanding pharmacy availability through December and reaching out to all eligible customers to get their booster: As demand for boosters increases, the largest federal pharmacy partners will be ready to help meet that demand. Pharmacy partners are launching broad-based outreach campaigns to encourage the public to get their boosters, and are sending millions of texts, calls, and emails to eligible customers with information on how to schedule an appointment or walk-in for their booster shot. In addition, pharmacy partners will continue to offer call center services to support members of the public who need assistance, including in multiple languages. The President will also announce that the pharmacy program will continue to take steps to expand availability, so that adults can continue to receive their booster shots at trusted, convenient pharmacies near them. Nationwide, more than two in three COVID-19 vaccinations are already happening at local pharmacies. Federal pharmacy partners will continue to expand access by adding capacity across their network to meet the needs of their local communities. They will also work to ensure equitable access to boosters by offering vaccinations at convenient hours, including evenings and over weekends, so that adults can get boosted at a time that works best for them.

- Launching a new public education campaign to encourage adults to get boosters, with a special focus on seniors: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will launch a new public education campaign to ensure every adult American is getting their booster as soon as they are eligible. This effort will put a special focus on seniors who are the most vulnerable, including seniors from communities of color and seniors from underserved communities. The campaign will feature paid advertising across multiple channels, engagement with community organizations, robust stakeholder outreach, and earned media campaigns.

- Collaborating with AARP on an education campaign focused on getting seniors boosted: AARP has been engaged in a robust education effort around COVID-19 and primary vaccinations throughout the pandemic. As we shift toward getting more seniors boosted, AARP will build on these efforts, and in collaboration with the Administration, will serve seniors through:

- Town Halls: The Administration will participate in AARP-sponsored tele-town halls to reach thousands of seniors over the coming months and educate older Americans about the importance of boosters.

- Rides to Booster Shots: AARP has committed to delivering rides through volunteers and partnerships with other organizations to help seniors get boosted at local pharmacies, clinics, events, churches, or other trusted locations.

- Events and Call Center: AARP and the Administration will participate in local events and media opportunities across the country in the weeks ahead. In addition, the Administration has provided new training to help CDC’s National COVID-19 Vaccine Assistance hotline answer AARP members’ and all seniors’ questions about boosters or find an appointment at 1-800-232-0233.

- Targeting outreach to Medicare beneficiaries: As part of a comprehensive plan to get older adults the extra protection they need through a booster, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is launching an education and outreach initiative to get Medicare beneficiaries boosted. This will include sending a notice from the CMS Administrator to all Medicare beneficiaries encouraging them to get boosted and providing information about how to easily access a booster shot in their community. Approximately 63 million people are enrolled in Medicare, and this is the first time in more than 4 years that Medicare has sent all Medicare beneficiaries a notice of this kind. CMS will also send emails, add messages to the 1-800-MEDICARE call center and incorporate messaging into advertising campaigns highly targeted to high-risk audiences with lower booster uptake.

- Calling on employers to follow the federal government’s lead and provide paid time off to their employees to get boosted: All federal employees currently receive paid time off to get booster shots. The President will call on employers throughout the country to remove a barrier to vaccination access by providing the same paid time off for their employees if they are not doing so already, including paid time off for family members getting their first, second, or booster shots. No one should have to choose between their pay check and getting the additional protection of a booster shot or a child vaccination. Currently, about one-third of workers report not receiving paid time off for vaccinations, and thirty-five percent of parents report being concerned about having to take time off work to get their child vaccinated or care for them if they experience side effects. Over the course of our pandemic response, these concerns have been even more pressing in our underserved communities; earlier this year, 64 percent of unvaccinated Hispanic/Latino adults and 55 percent of unvaccinated Black adults reported concern about missing work to get vaccinated.

2. Vaccinations to Protect Our Kids and Keep Our Schools Open: The President will announce new actions to get more kids ages 5 and older vaccinated and to keep our schools open. When the President came into office, more than half the schools in our country were closed. Today, 99 percent of schools across the country are fully open and in person. The steps the President is announcing today will ensure that remains the case. As we face the Omicron variant, we now have an important new tool: vaccines for kids ages 5-11. The U.S. leads the world in vaccinating children in this age group. 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 Biden Administration has made it easy for parents to get their kids vaccinated with over 35,000 sites that parents know and trust, including pharmacies, pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and school-based clinics. The President will announce new actions to get kids vaccinated and ensure that schools stay open.

- Launching hundreds of family vaccination clinics to get the whole family vaccinated or boosted in one trusted and convenient location: The President will announce a new effort to launch hundreds of family vaccination clinics across the country. Together, these clinics will offer vaccinations for the whole family – with first shots for parents, teens, and kids, and boosters for those eligible. This model builds on the Administration’s ongoing efforts – in coordination with states, localities, providers and community leaders – to meet people where they are and make vaccinations accessible and convenient in communities across the country. HRSA will launch Family Vaccination Days – with hundreds of community health centers across the country hosting family vaccination clinics throughout December. Over two in three shots at community health centers are administered to people of color. FEMA will launch Family Mobile Vaccination Clinics, deploying sites, staff, and support to states across the country that need help – beginning with its first deployments to Washington and New Mexico. States and localities will pioneer this model nationwide – with full federal funding and support, and receive a new playbook to provide all partners with the information they need to stand up these sites and increase equitable access to vaccination. And, at thousands of pharmacies nationwide, federal pharmacy partners – including CVS and Rite Aid – will make available family-based scheduling over the coming months so that parents have a one-stop-shop to get their family their vaccination appointments all at once.

- Requiring Medicaid to pay health care providers to talk to families about getting their kids vaccinated: Increasing COVID-19 vaccinations and centering equity in COVID-19 vaccinations requires meeting our hardest-hit and highest-risk communities where they are with information from trusted sources. To help parents get their questions answered and make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination for their children, all Medicaid programs will pay health care providers to talk to parents about the importance of kids’ vaccination. Medicaid will cover COVID-19 vaccine counseling visits for most children and youth up to age 21 with 100% federal funding throughout the public health emergency and the following year. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program provide health insurance coverage to over 40 percent of all children in the United States and are a significant source of coverage for Black and brown children. Today’s action will help expand access to individualized medical advice in all of our communities and give families the support they need to engage with trusted community providers.

- Reviewing school COVID-19 prevention policies to avoid closures of entire classrooms or schools when there is a positive case: Thanks to efforts from the Biden Administration, 99 percent of schools are now open for full-time in-person learning – up from 46 percent at the beginning of the Administration. This progress has been crucial to making sure all students can safely be back where they belong – learning alongside their peers – and to help them accelerate through any learning loss they may have experienced in the last year and a half. Schools can stay open safely by implementing layered prevention strategies, and with the tools, guidance, and resources the Administration has provided, schools should not have to close due to COVID-19. To make sure schools can remain safely open:

- CDC will release findings on quarantine and testing policies in schools: Today, close contacts who are not fully vaccinated should be referred for COVID-19 testing and quarantine at home for up to 14 days after exposure. While it is crucial to take proper measures to contain spread of the virus following COVID-19 exposure, this period of quarantine can significantly interrupt student’s learning, and make it challenging for parents to work. States and districts around the country have been pioneering alternative approaches to quarantine, including “test to stay” policies – where exposed students remain in school, wear masks, and test repeatedly in the days following exposure to identify and contain infection. CDC has been studying approaches to quarantine and testing, including looking at the science and data of how they may keep school communities safe. CDC will release their findings on these approaches in the coming weeks.

- The Administration will issue a new “Safe School Checklist” to give schools a clear game plan for how to get as many of their staff and students vaccinated as possible: The best way to avoid outbreaks in schools is to stop transmission before it happens – and the best tool we have to stop transmission and keep schools open is vaccinating everyone who is eligible. Now, all students ages 5 and up are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Today, the Administration will issue a new “Safe Schools Checklist” to all K-12 schools, detailing a set of actions that every school can take to get their staff and students vaccinated – including hosting school-located vaccination clinics, hosting community-based and family vaccination clinics and events, implementing vaccination requirements for school staff, and getting eligible vaccinated school staff booster shots. The Checklist will also link to resources schools can use to set up these initiatives and talk to families about the importance of vaccination.

- Providing every resource to the FDA to support timely review of applications for vaccines for individuals under the age of 5: The President will announce that, as he did for a vaccine for kids ages 5-11, he supports the independent scientific review of a vaccine for those individuals under the age of 5 and will provide the FDA with any needed resources to do this safely and as quickly as possible once data is submitted to the agency.

3. Expanding Free At-Home Testing for Americans: Today, the President will announce new steps to ensure that Americans has access to free at-home testing. First, the more than 150 million Americans with private insurance – who now are able to get tests covered in physician offices, pharmacies, and clinics with no cost sharing – will also be able to get at-home tests reimbursed by their insurance. Second, for those not covered by private insurance, in addition to more than 20,000 federally-supported free testing sites across the U.S., at-home tests will be distributed through key community sites, such as health centers and rural clinics. The Biden Administration has taken significant steps to increase testing in the country since January. We are on track to quadruple the supply of rapid at-home tests that we had in late-Summer. Today’s actions will help Americans access the tests they need to help them stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.

- Providing health plan coverage of no-cost rapid, over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests: To expand access and affordability of at-home COVID-19 tests, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will issue guidance by January 15th to clarify that individuals who purchase OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests will be able to seek reimbursement from their group health plan or health insurance issuer and have insurance cover the cost during the public health emergency. Workplace screening would remain consistent with current guidance. Today’s announcement follows the President’s September action directing more than $2 billion to accelerate the production of rapid tests and an additional $1 billion investment in procuring at-home tests. Over the same time period, FDA authorized five additional over-the-counter tests. A total of 8 tests are on the market today; no test was on the market when the President took office.

- Expanding community distribution of free at-home tests through neighborhood sites such as health centers and rural clinics: To ensure equitable access to free at-home tests for our uninsured and underserved communities, the President will double the commitment from September to distribute 25 million free tests to community sites to 50 million tests and will add rural clinics to the program. Partnerships with trusted community providers will aid in getting these important testing supplies into the homes of our hardest-hit communities.

4. Stronger Public Health Protocols for Safe International Travel: Last month, the Administration implemented stronger international travel protocols, including requirements for foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated. The very day the WHO identified the new Omicron variant, the Biden Administration took immediate steps to restrict travel from the countries in the region where it was confirmed to be spreading quickly. The President will announce additional steps to strengthen the safety of international travel as we face this new threat – just as we have faced those that have come before it.

- Strengthening global pre-departure testing protocols: Early next week, the United States will tighten pre-departure testing protocols by requiring all inbound international travelers to test within one day of departure globally, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant.

- Extending the requirement to wear a mask on airplanes, rail travel, and public transportation: The Administration will continue to require masking during international or other public travel – as well as in transportation hubs such as airports or indoor bus terminals – through March 18 as we continue to battle COVID-19 this winter. The Transportation Security Administration will extend its implementing orders to maintain these requirements through March 18. Fines will continue to be doubled from their initial levels for noncompliance with the masking requirements – with a minimum fine of $500 and fines of up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

5. Protecting Workplaces to Keep Businesses Open: Today, the President will announce additional progress we’re making in protecting workers and keeping our economy growing and businesses open. Since President Biden took office, the economy has added 5.6 million jobs, new unemployment claims have fallen by 70 percent, and applications for new businesses have risen 30 percent above the pre-pandemic average. To protect this progress and to ensure workers stay safe and on the job, we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our workplaces and places of businesses. Vaccination requirements do just that. The President is calling on businesses to continue to take steps to ensure workers are protected as we head into the winter.

- Calling on businesses to move forward with vaccination or testing programs: The President will call on businesses to move forward expeditiously with requiring their workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly. This is especially important given the Omicron variant. No business should shut down this winter because of COVID-19. The Department of Labor has provided a clear roadmap to help businesses keep workers safe and their doors open. Already, 60 percent of businesses report they are moving forward with implementing a program to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested on a weekly basis, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 100 leading public health experts have encouraged businesses to not delay in implementing these protective measures. The President will urge businesses to take steps now to protect workers, customers, and the economy.

6. Rapid Response Teams to Help Battle Rising Cases: Today, the President will announce new actions to help states battle any potential COVID-19 outbreaks this winter, including of the Omicron variant. As we worked to bring down the Delta surge throughout this summer and fall, we successfully deployed thousands of federal personnel to help 27 states and two territories. These COVID-19 Surge Response Teams mobilized to address critical needs on the ground, including personnel, therapeutics, and technical expertise. To date, we have deployed over 2,000 personnel, including 1,300 clinical providers; surged over 3,200 ventilators, ambulances and other critical supplies; and shipped over 2.3 million courses of lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments. As we face the potential of a new variant and rising cases during the winter months, today, the President will make clear that federal government will once again be prepared to help.

- Making 60+ Winter COVID emergency response team deployments available to states: To ensure states have the help they need as they battle rising cases, the President will announce new emergency response teams that will be available to help supplement state efforts. These teams include: 

     - 20+ Department of Defense Medical Response Team deployments to support clinical staffing at strained hospitals.

     - 10 National Disaster Medical System team deployments to provide clinical support at strained hospitals.

     - 20+ monoclonal antibody strike team deployments to support the administration of these lifesaving treatments.

     - 15+ CDC expert deployments to conduct outbreak investigations and provide epidemiological or technical support whenever needed.

- Strengthening our national volunteer emergency medical response corps to support communities in need: To help local municipalities strengthen their health preparedness and response, today the President will announce $20 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan to strengthen the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a network of medical and public health volunteers organized locally to improve the health of their communities. This funding will provide additional resources needed to support the roughly 300,000 MRC medical and public health professionals who have already volunteered more than 2 million hours toward local COVID-19 response. HHS will also lead a national effort to mobilize volunteers, including retired doctors and nurses, in areas with rising COVID cases.

7. Supplying Treatment Pills to Help Prevent Hospitalizations and Death: As we head into winter, new COVID-19 treatments may be on the horizon that could help prevent hospitalization and death. As these treatments continue to be developed and reviewed, today, the President will announce that we are ensuring that if and when any new COVID-19 treatment pills have been found to meet FDA’s scientific standards, they are equitably accessible to all Americans, regardless of their income or their zip code.

- Securing enough supply and ensuring pills are widely available in the hardest-hit, highest-risk communities: The Administration is taking steps to secure 13 million doses of antiviral courses to ensure we have ample supply for Americans who need treatment. That number is six times the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations reported throughout this entire year. As more and more treatments may become available in the coming months, the Administration will ensure our underserved communities, often at highest risk from the virus, will be able to conveniently access these potentially lifesaving treatments.

8. Continued Commitment to Global Vaccination Efforts: Today, the President will reaffirm his commitment to help vaccinate the globe, and call on other countries to do the same to combat this pandemic globally and help prevent the development of new variants.

- Donating 1.2 billion doses to the world: To date, the U.S. has committed to donate 1.2 billion doses to the world. For every one shot the Biden Administration has administered in the U.S., we are donating about three doses to people around the world. The U.S. is also the first country to give up its place in line for vaccines, allowing the African Union to immediately start receiving up to 110 million doses of Moderna at a reduced rate negotiated by the United States. And, we are working with partners to expand supply of critical ancillary needs like syringes.

- Accelerating the delivery of more vaccines to countries in need by pledging to deliver 200 million more doses in the next 100 days. To build on our donations of over 275 million doses that have been shared with 110 countries, including 94 million doses to Africa, we are pledging to deliver 200 million more doses in the next 100 days – accelerating the delivery of vaccines to countries in need. These doses are being delivered for free with no strings attached. The U.S. is also the first country to negotiate a deal with J&J and the COVAX facility to send vaccines directly to humanitarian settings and conflict zones to vaccinate displaced people.

- Taking steps to ramp up manufacturing here and abroad, building out a sustainable supply chain and increasing capacity globally to make vaccines: We are ramping up vaccine manufacturing, building a sustainable supply chain and increasing global capacity to make additional vaccines. We will continue our work to invest in companies that have experience manufacturing mRNA vaccines to help them expand capacity by an additional 1 billion doses per year, with production starting by the second half of 2022.

- Turning vaccines into vaccinations: We are working with country partners to get doses into arms with plans tailored to specific country needs. With lines of effort ranging from communications campaigns to build vaccine confidence, to funding for vaccinators on the front line – the U.S. government is committed to getting people vaccinated around the world.

9. Steps to Ensure We Are Prepared for All Scenarios: Health and medical experts believe that the current vaccines authorized in the U.S. provide at least some protection against the Omicron variant and that boosters strengthen that protection significantly. However, to ensure that we are prepared for all scenarios, the Administration is taking steps now to be able to quickly act if updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to the Omicron variant.

- Accelerating the development and deployment of new vaccines and boosters if needed for the Omicron variant: The President is committed to using every resource and tool available to the U.S. government to ensure that we can quickly get updated vaccines and boosters to the American people in the unlikely event they are needed to battle the Omicron variant. The Administration is working closely with executives at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccinations or boosters if needed. The President will also use every resource available to help support the FDA and CDC to quickly review new vaccines, if needed, while ensuring that the rigorous safety review process is upheld. The President is also committed to doing the same for any COVID-19 treatment that may be needed for this variant.