White House Unveils Plan for Dealing With Next COVID Phase

March 2, 2022 by Dan McCue
White House Unveils Plan for Dealing With Next COVID Phase
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — Hours after President Joe Biden declared “it’s time for Americans to get back to work” in his State of the Union address, the White House on Wednesday unveiled its updated plan for dealing with the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

During his address, Biden highlighted the progress the United States has made on the pandemic since last year, noting a dramatic reduction in cases since the omicron variant ran its course and the availability of vaccines and tests.

He also announced the administration is launching a “test-to-treat” initiative to provide free antiviral pills at pharmacies to those who test positive for the virus.

“Tonight, I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines. It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said.

On Wednesday, the White House rolled out a new, 96-page “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.”

It’s purpose is to sustain and build on the progress made against the virus since Biden took office in January of last year. Since then, 215 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and two-thirds of eligible adults have gotten a booster shot.

The breadth of the new plan is the result of months of consultants with a range of outside advisors, governors, local officials and business executives. While the White House remains reluctant to declare the pandemic over, saying it is “clear-eyed that new variants might arise,” the plan makes the case for scaling back public health measures “as we move … from crisis to a time when COVID-19 does not disrupt our daily lives.”

“We look to a future when Americans no longer fear lockdowns, shutdowns and our kids not going to school. It’s a future when the country relies on the powerful layers of protection we have built and invests in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus,” the White House said in a written statement.

“Make no mistake, President Biden will not accept just ‘living with COVID’ any more than we accept ‘living with’ cancer, Alzheimer’s, or AIDS,’” the statement continued. “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.”

The plan unveiled Wednesday focuses on four key goals:

Protect against and treat COVID-19.
Prepare for new variants.
Prevent economic and educational shutdowns.
Continue to lead the effort to vaccinate the world and save lives.

The United States has experienced five waves of the pandemic since 2020, including three in the past year that were driven by new variants. According to the administration, its comprehensive effort to deal with the pandemic has ensured each variant was less disruptive than those that preceded it.

To continue that process, the White House is launching an effort to vaccinate America’s youngest children as soon as the Food and Drug Administration authorizes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a vaccine for that age group.

The administration will also continue to ensure that all Americans have ready access to free and safe vaccines, because vaccines are the most effective defense against COVID-19. As part of that effort, the Department of Health and Human Services will monitor the efficacy and durability of currently authorized vaccines against current and future variants and make recommendations to optimize protection.

According to the plan, “the U.S. government will continue to use advance purchasing agreements when appropriate and work closely with vaccine manufacturers to produce shots quickly and safely.”

The administration said it will also continue to procure additional treatments; continue to use an expedited, streamlined process to review treatments for authorization by the FDA; and accelerate research and development into next generation treatments.

These initiatives will require additional funding and authorities from Congress, the White House noted.

As part of the Test to Treat Initiative mentioned by the president during the State of the Union address, the administration will establish one-stop Test to Treat locations at pharmacy-based clinics, community health centers, long-term care facilities and Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country.

These one-stop sites will be operational later this month, the White House said.

The strategy also lays out how the administration will prepare for and react to potential future surges, leaving the door open for the need to reimpose certain protections if another dangerous variant hits the U.S.

That includes face masks. “Masks have been a critical tool to protect ourselves, but they have a time and a place,” the plan says. “By monitoring community risk, masks can be worn when the risk of severe disease in the community is high and taken off when the risk is low. Overall, it means Americans will be wearing masks less because so many people are protected from severe disease.”

The plan acknowledges that the path forward after COVID-19 relies on giving schools and businesses the tools they need to prevent economic and educational shutdowns, so that students can remain safe in school, workers can be safe at work, and the economy can continue to grow.

Toward that end, White House officials said they will work with Congress to give schools and businesses guidance, tests, and supplies to stay open, including tools to improve ventilation and air filtration.

The administration will also provide technical assistance that encourages schools, public buildings, state, local, and tribal governments to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using American Rescue Plan funds.

The plan also calls on Congress to provide paid sick leave to workers who need to miss work due to a case of COVID-19 or to care for a loved one who has COVID-19.

The administration will work with Congress to reinstate tax credits to help small- and mid-size businesses provide paid sick and family leave to deal with COVID-related absences, the report states.

Lastly, the administration said it will continue to lead the effort to vaccinate the world and save lives.

To date, the U.S. government has delivered over 475 million free doses to 112 countries around the world — four times the number of free doses shared with the world from any other country.

In addition, the U.S. government has delivered life-saving resources like oxygen, treatments, PPE and other essential supplies worth more than $1 billion to countries experiencing outbreaks.

The path forward in the pandemic will require doubling down on the U.S. commitment to help vaccinate the globe and to save lives by making tests, treatments and PPE widely available, the administration said.

To do so, the White House plans to leverage the current vaccine donation model pioneered to deliver the 1.2 billion doses the U.S. committed to donate to the rest of the world.

The administration will also increase investment in the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, a global vaccination initiative intended to get doses into arms by working with partner countries to more quickly implement their plans.

This includes supporting efforts such as jumpstarting communications campaigns, providing and supporting vaccinators on the front lines, paying for shipping and logistics to expedite vaccine delivery to hard-to-reach areas, ensuring people at high risk of hospitalization and deaths like the elderly and immunocompromised are vaccinated, and building vaccine confidence on the ground.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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