Biden announces free home COVID testing, emergency hospital support to head off winter omicron surge

President Joe Biden today announced new COVID-19 testing, vaccination and hospital capacity support initiatives in response to the omicron variant’s increasing burden on the nation’s healthcare system.

“Three weeks ago, I laid out a COVID-19 action plan for this winter. I prepared us for this moment," the president said during a Tuesday press briefing. "Today, we’re making the plan even stronger.”

Headlining the efforts are plans to purchase a half-billion at-home rapid tests that will be distributed to Americans “for free,” according to Biden and his administration. These tests will be available to order from a soon-to-come website and be delivered directly to Americans’ homes beginning in January.

The Biden administration also said that it will be working to open new federal testing sites, scale pharmacy capacity and continue to employ the Defense Production Act “to make sure the U.S. is producing as many tests as quickly as possible.”

For states and hospitals that are or will face increased strain due to rising cases, the president is directing an additional 1,000 medical personnel from the armed services to deploy to hospitals as needed beginning in January and February, the White House said.

RELATED: Hospitals across the country running out of beds, reducing surgeries amid latest COVID surge

The administration has also immediately deployed six emergency response teams comprising more than 100 clinical personnel and paramedics to six hard-hit states—Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Further, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be increasing its capacity and working with states to identify hospitals in need prior to winter surges of COVID-19, according to the White House.

FEMA will immediately begin expanding the nation’s hospital bed capacity “with the federal government paying for all of it,” and is positioned to deploy “hundreds” of ambulances and emergency medical teams should hospitals face overflow, according to the announcement.

The White House noted that it will continue to provide 100% federal reimbursement to states for all their COVID-19 emergency response costs. The administration also said that it has “hundreds of millions of N-95 masks, billions of gloves, tens of millions of gowns and over 100,000 ventilators” ready to quickly ship from the Strategic National Stockpile should they be requested.

RELATED: Biden asks Supreme Court to back health worker vaccine mandate after legal challenges

"As cases of COVID-19 sharply increase due to the omicron variant, the nation’s healthcare system and capacity to deliver care is once again being put under stress," Gerald Harmon, M.D., president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement following the announcements. "The Biden administration’s announcement today to deploy additional medical personnel to COVID-burdened hospitals and stand-up new mass vaccination sites across the country will help alleviate some of the burden on the nation’s already overwhelmed healthcare workforce."

The administration and other health officials have warned that the coming weeks could see record-high COVID-19 case counts. The uptick is due in large part to the recent emergence of the omicron variant, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accounted for 73% of new COVID-19 infections confirmed in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 18.

The president bookended his statements by again urging the public to seek out a vaccine or booster shot. 

Those who have received vaccinations and a booster are "highly protected," while others who are unvaccinated are at greater risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death, he said. 

But despite case trends and the urgent messaging, Biden asserted that the country is still in a better position now than it was at the top of the pandemic. 

"We should all be concerned about omicron but not panicked," the president said. "... And no, this is not March of 2020. Two-hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We’re prepared, we know more. We just need to stay focused.”