President Joe Biden’s White House announced Wednesday that it was time for America to stop letting the coronavirus “dictate how we live,” outlining a strategy to allow people to safely return to many normal activities after two years of pandemic disruption.
Among the highlights is a new “test-the-treatment” plan to provide free antiviral pills in pharmacies to people who have tested positive for the virus.
90 pages National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan It outlines initiatives and investments to continue to reduce serious illness and deaths from the virus—about 950,000 Americans have died—while preparing for potential new variables and providing employers and schools with the resources to stay open.
“We know how to keep our businesses and schools open with the tools we have at our disposal,” said Jeff Zentes, the White House coordinator on COVID-19. The announcement follows Biden’s Tuesday night State of the Union address, in which he noted progress against the pandemic since last year and outlined some next steps.
A key component of the administration’s plan to convince Americans that it is safe to resume normal activities is to increase the availability of Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral pill, which has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 by 90 percent. By the end of the month, the department says, there will be 1 million pills available, with twice that ready for use in April.
Watch | Biden reviews the following federal pandemic steps in the State of the Union:
A White House official said the “test-to-treat” plan will initially roll out to hundreds of pharmacies across the country, including CVS, Walgreens and Kroger locations, and expand soon thereafter. Those who test positive at the sites will be able to obtain the antiviral pills – Merck’s pills are also approved – for quick use, greatly reducing the risk of poor outcomes.
One potential problem: The test-to-treatment plan sparked early concern from some pharmacists.
Ann Burns, vice president of the American Pharmacists Association, said pharmacies across the country have had difficulties hiring in recent months. Pharmacists who already dispense vaccines, prescriptions and health advice are concerned about the extra time needed if they add more COVID-19 testing and treatment.
“There are a lot of considerations that go into this,” she said. “It takes much longer than it takes to dispense most regular prescriptions.”
Change the orientation of the inner mask
In his remarks Tuesday night, Biden said that in addition to starting the new antiviral initiative, his administration will allow people in the United States to request another round of free testing from the government via COVIDTests.gov. About 200 million tests out of the 500 million allocations in mid-January have yet to be claimed.
The White House strategy comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its guidance on when face masks should be worn in indoor public spaces. Now more than 70 percent of the country can safely remove masks indoors, the CDC says, and the proportion is expected to increase as cases continue to decline.
Many states led by Republican governors were already ignoring federal mask guidelines. In Florida on Wednesday, clearly upset Governor Ron DeSantis issued a warning to a group of high school students to wear face masks at an indoor press conference, saying it was time to stop what he called “this COVID theater.”
“Honestly, it doesn’t do anything,” DeSantis said.
The CDC is still recommending the use of masks indoors in Hillsborough County, where the press conference is being held. Further, extensive study over a period of nine months in California residents Just posted last month It found that people who wore N95 or KN95 masks were 83 percent less likely to test positive, with positive results (more than 50 percent) for those who said they wore surgical or cloth masks.
A large number of Americans have been infected
While some states and localities have kept mask requirements in place, especially for schools, Democratic-led New York ended that mandate on Wednesday, with Democratic-led California, Oregon and Washington announced earlier this week that they will do so in the coming weeks.
“We will not only live with COVID. Because of our work, we no longer allow COVID-19 to dictate how we live,” the White House said in its statement on Wednesday.
This statement comes despite the fact that the death rate remains high, with nearly 1,700 people dying in the United States every day. On Wednesday, more than 2,100 deaths were recorded across the country, according to a Reuters tally.
Officials stress that vaccination is well protected, with most cases of serious illness and death in the United States occurring among those who have not been vaccinated or who have not received a booster dose of the vaccine. About 69 percent of Americans over the age of five are considered fully vaccinated, with exactly half of the eligible population receiving a booster dose, according to CDC tracking.
Also, about 140 million Americans, or 43 percent of the country, are now infected with COVID-19, which gives them at least some short-lived immunity. That estimate comes from the CDC’s monitoring program, which tested nearly 72,000 blood samples sent to commercial laboratories from late December to late January. The samples were checked for antibodies from the infection, distinguishing them from the antibodies that came from vaccination.