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White House outlines plan to protect Americans against omicron variant this winter

With the omicron variant confirmed in California, Biden says all travelers arriving to the US must test within one day of their departure.


Biden plans to vaccinate Americans and the world.

Anna Moneymaker/Staff/Getty Images

The White House introduced new actions on Thursday aimed at protecting Americans against the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 during the colder months of the year. The plan includes expanding free at-home COVID testing and providing more vaccines for kids to keep schools open. It also includes more access to COVID-19 boosters for all adults, including at pharmacies through December. 

"We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," President Joe Biden said during a press meeting Thursday afternoon at the National Institutes of Health.

Beyond preventative measures, the White House intends to increase the availability of COVID-19 treatment pills, if and when they're approved. Ahead of that, the White House is trying to secure more than 13 million doses of antiviral courses, and says it will ensure these treatment pills are available in the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.

Read more: New US travel ban for omicron variant: What it means

The US will increase its "surge response teams" -- medical staff in communities dealing with outbreaks in COVID -- from 20 to 60, and will also "accelerate the delivery of more vaccines to countries that need it, on our way to delivering 1 billion 200 million doses to the rest of the world," Biden said. 

All travelers arriving to the US from overseas must test within one day of their departure, Biden added.

The new omicron variant was confirmed in the US on Wednesday. The individual who tested positive from the strain was returning home from South Africa, where scientists noticed a spike in cases. 

The World Health Organization has classified the omicron strain as one of concern, and countries are starting to restrict travel as the variant has now been detected in more than 20 countries. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to Biden, reiterated on Wednesday that there will be more information about the transmissibility and severity of the strain within the next three weeks.

Multiple studies demonstrate that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe illness and death from the virus. They are an important tool in bringing the pandemic under control. Biden on Thursday is expected to again encourage Americans to get vaccinated as well as receive a booster shot if eligible.