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The White House announced the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan on Wednesday, which the administration says aims to move the nation forward safely and build on progress two years after the pandemic first hit.
At the White House COVID-19 response team briefing, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients touted the plan – the result of weeks of work with experts both inside and outside of government – as “robust and comprehensive.”
“Today we have the tools we need to protect each other and treat COVID-19,” he said. “They’re widely available for the American people. And, with Congress’ help, the president’s plan will make sure that’s always the case.”
Echoing comments made by President Biden, he said that the administration would be prepared for the rollout of vaccines for children under the age of 5 years old.
He also referenced the “Test to Treat” initiative the president announced at his State of the Union address Tuesday night, and the effort to make more free at-home COVID-19 tests and N95 masks available.
“Test to Treat” allows for Americans to get tested for coronavirus at a pharmacy and receive antiviral pills “on the spot at no cost” if they are positive.
“Vaccines, treatments, tests, masks – these tools are how we continue to protect people. They enable us to move forward safely and get back to our more normal routines,” he noted. Zients added that the government will launch a website to ensure Americans can find tools at convenient locations later in March.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra later highlighted that the government has, thus far, distributed 690 million doses of vaccines, 4 million treatments, more than 270 million free N95s and free COVID-19 tests to 70 million households.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), he said, would further expand research and ramp up data sharing, with the possibility for launch new centers should Congress provide funding.
Becerra said the administration would coordinate a “whole of government effort” to support children and families who have experienced the loss of loved one due to COVID-19, as well as focus on strengthening mental and behavioral health services.
The secretary said HHS would continue to address the specific needs of seniors, people with disabilities and those who are immunocompromised.
The 96-page National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan focuses on four key goals, including protecting against and treating the disease, preparing for new variants, preventing economic and educational shutdowns and continuing to lead the effort to vaccinate the world.
Zients said that the U.S. variant monitoring system is ready to respond and can now detect variants at a “very low level.”
He said the plan would create stockpiles of personal protective equipment, tests and treatments and said that the plan would continue to ensure that schools, workers and workplaces have the resources they need.
That includes a new clean air in building checklist from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a request for Congress to reinstate tax credits to help small and mid-sized businesses with paid sick and family leave.
Lastly, Zients said that the president’s plan includes continuing to donate more vaccines worldwide and “doubling down on efforts to turn those vaccines into vaccinations.”
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients removes a face mask as he prepares to speak at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, April 13, 2021.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
To date, more than 215 million Americans are fully vaccinated and two-thirds of eligible U.S. adults have received a booster shot.
As Zients pointed out, the plan requires Congress to invest in tools and the plan pushed against the idea of just “living with COVID.”
“Make no mistake, President Biden will not accept just ‘living with COVID’ any more than we accept ‘living with’ cancer, Alzheimer’s, or AIDS. We will continue our work to stop the spread of the virus, blunt its impact on those who get infected, and deploy new treatments to dramatically reduce the occurrence of severe COVID-19 disease and deaths,” it said.
The president said Tuesday that his administration would never give up on vaccinating more Americans and would leave no one behind.
Vaccines could be deployed within 100 days in response to a new variant and Biden said he would soon send a request to Congress.
“We have lost so much to COVID-19. Time with one another. And worst of all, so much loss of life …” he said. “… We can’t change how divided we’ve been. But we can change how we move forward – on COVID-19 and other issues we must face together.”
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