President Biden on Thursday directed health officials to purchase an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests to distribute to Americans for free, as the nation battles the surge in cases of the highly-transmissible omicron variant.
During remarks on his administration's strategy to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the president announced the additional 500 million tests – on top of the half a billion tests that his administration already has "in the process" of shipping to homes "for free."
The Biden administration has been grappling with a testing shortage, as cases of the omicron variant continue to increase among both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans.
The Department of Defense, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded the $51.6 million contract to Goldbelt Security, LLC, in Newport News, Virginia, for delivery of over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits. According to the Defense Department, the procurement was funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, which supplies medical resources to different parts of the nation.
"We're seeing a real improvement in testing," Biden said Thursday, adding that his administration has made a "huge leap" in testing in January.
The president also said the administration is "on track" to roll out a website later this month, where Americans can order tests to be shipped, for free, to their homes.
"We'll continue to work with the retailers online to increase availability," Biden said. "And for those who want an immediate test, we continue to add FEMA testing sites so that there are more free in-person testing sites."
The president reminded individuals with insurance that they "can get reimbursed for eight tests a month," and for those without insurance, pointed them to the more than 20,000 free testing sites across the nation.
The Biden administration on Wednesday also announced it is increasing COVID-19 testing by distributing 5 million free, rapid tests to K-12 schools each month in an effort to help keep them open despite cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant surging across the nation.
Meanwhile, the president said he has deployed military medical teams to hard-hit areas as part of their hospital response efforts.
"Just since Thanksgiving, over 800 military and other federal emergency personnel have been deployed to 24 states, tribes and territories, including 350 military doctors, nurses and medics helping staff," Biden said. "The hospitals are in short supply. This is on top of the more than 14,000 National Guard members that are activated in 49 states."
Biden went on to note that the administration has shipped more than 5.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment like gloves, gowns and masks to protect frontline health care workers. Biden also said he has directed FEMA to work with every state to ensure that hospitals have enough hospital bed capacity.
During his speech Thursday, Biden also announced the deployment of six additional federal medical teams – a total of 120 military medical personnel – to aid in hard-hit states like Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island.
"This has been a long road," Biden said. "But what's clear as we get through this, when everybody does their part, no matter where you live, no matter your political party, we've got to fight this together."
The president, again, made a plea to the unvaccinated to get their shots.
"Personal choice impacts us all. Our hospitals, our countries," Biden said, urging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, and noting that while vaccinated individuals are testing positive for the omicron variant, they are "17 times" less likely to be admitted to the hospital due to symptoms from the virus.
"COVID-19 is one of the most formidable enemies America has ever faced," Biden said. "We've got to work together, not against each other." He added: "We're America. We can do this."