White House ramps up test and mask distribution in fight against omicron

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The Biden administration has launched a task force to respond to future COVID-19 variants.

The Biden administration is taking several steps to address the latest wave of COVID-19, including the creation of a response team designed to head off possible future variants of the coronavirus.

Experts say the month of February will likely be "tough" because of the omicron variant of the virus, though there are signs that the wave may be peaking as reported infections and hospitalizations slow. Health officials are simultaneously concerned about future variants developing, and groups like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to monitor the ever-changing situation.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, meanwhile, has made moves to address the crisis, recently launching the Pandemic Innovation Task Force, which is focused on developing treatments, vaccines, testing, and other tools to respond to variants that may appear within six months to two years.

Eric Lander, who serves as President Joe Biden's science adviser, leads the group, along with Dawn O'Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services. Bloomberg reported that the task force builds on the $65.3 billion, 10-year pandemic preparedness plan released by the White House in September to coordinate efforts across the government in the event of future outbreaks.

That plan is a reversal from former President Donald Trump, whose team, upon taking over, discarded the pandemic preparedness plan left in place by President Barack Obama's team and left the Office of Science and Technology Policy director's seat vacant for two years.

The Biden administration on Tuesday also launched an official website to offer COVID-19 tests to every American household, a day ahead of the scheduled launch.

The site, COVIDtests.gov — which allows each household to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 test kits, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service — immediately attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and was the most-visited federal government page. According to the official federal government analytics site, it received over 47 million visits in its first 48 hours of operation.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration also announced that it would make 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free. The masks are being sourced from the Strategic National Stockpile and will be sent to local pharmacies and community health centers for anyone to pick up.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Jan. 14 to reflect the fact that N95 and similar masks, in comparison to cloth masks, "offer the highest level of protection" against infection with the coronavirus.

Biden has publicly voiced support for masks since the height of the pandemic in 2020 and has continued to wear them in public himself while promoting vaccination efforts.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.