President Joe Biden speaks on Thursday about his administration's whole-of-government COVID-19 efforts, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 13 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he's sending more than 100 military medical personnel to overcrowded hospitals in a half-dozen states to help with dramatic peaks in COVID-19 cases -- and will double the number of home tests available to all Americans.
Biden made the announcement from the White House late Thursday morning with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell.
The president said he's sending about 120 additional medical personnel to six states -- Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island. He noted that more than 800 military medical workers have already been deployed to 24 states since Thanksgiving, including more than 350 doctors, nurses and medics.
The new deployments, Biden said, are in addition to 14,000 National Guard troops deployed to 49 states to assist with COVID-19 response.
The president also announced that he's ordering 500 million more home COVID-19 tests to be made available at no cost to all Americans. The tests add to the 500 million he announced last month.
"That will mean a billion tests in total to meet future demand," he said.
The free home COVID-19 tests will be available on a federal website, which is expected to launch next week.
In another step to control the spread of the coronavirus, Biden said the federal government has more than tripled the supply of personal protective equipment like masks and gowns for medical staff -- and that the White House will also make millions of high-quality masks available to all Americans at no cost.
"We want to triple our stockpile of the most protective specialized N95 masks since coming into office," he said. "This is going to make sure that there will be an ample supply for healthcare workers and first responders.
Biden said that wearing masks indoors in public is part of Americans' "patriotic duty."
The president's move is an effort to meet the growing needs of hospitals in several states that have become overcrowded with COVID-19 patients. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Biden said details on how to get the free masks will be unveiled next week, possibly with the launch of the COVID-19 test website.
In addition to sending medical personnel to busy hospitals, Biden said FEMA has been directed to make sure there are enough available hospital beds.
Once there, the medical teams will help triage patients arriving at hospitals, allowing short-staffed emergency departments to free up space. Biden first suggested the move last month as a way to help relieve overcrowding.
The new deployment will move medical workers to facilities including the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit, University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and University Hospital in Newark, N.J.
Wednesday, Biden announced a new measure to send 10 million COVID-19 test kits every month to schools nationwide -- a bid to keep them from closing.
During his remarks Thursday, Biden said that COVID-19 is one of the most formidable enemies the United States has ever faced -- and that Americans have to work together to defeat the pandemic.
"Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are testing positive, but what happens after that could not be more different," he said. "The vaccinated people who test positive overwhelmingly had either no symptoms at all or they had mild symptoms. If they're unvaccinated, if they test positive, they are 17 times more likely to get hospitalized.
"As a result, they are crowding our hospitals and leaving little room for anyone else who might have a heart attack or an injury in an automobile accident -- or any injury at all.
"Vaccines are safe and free and widely available. So do it today."