Biden speech to focus on vaccinations and testing, not ‘lockdowns’
President Biden will announce new steps to increase access to coronavirus vaccines and tests but will not endorse any new virus restrictions during a speech on Tuesday about the winter fight against COVID-19.
“This is not a speech about locking the country down,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing Monday. “This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefit of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals.”
Psaki would not go into detail on what steps Biden would announce, but suggested they would deal with increasing vaccinations and the availability of COVID-19 testing. The country has grappled with a shortage of at-home coronavirus tests during the holiday season, despite efforts by the White House to boost access.
“We always feel we need to be doing more, and that’s what the president will talk about tomorrow,” Psaki said.
Asked about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plea that the White House invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up the supply of at-home tests, Psaki said the administration is already using the law to expand testing.
Biden administration officials have urged Americans to get vaccinated and for those who are eligible to get booster doses to protect themselves from severe illness, especially as new variants have emerged.
Biden, who met privately with his coronavirus advisers Monday afternoon, is slated to deliver a speech Tuesday amid an uptick in cases due to the more transmissible delta and omicron variants.
The president will say that “while vaccinated individuals get COVID due to the highly transmissibility nature of omicron, their cases will likely be mild or asymptomatic,” Psaki said.
“He’ll restate that we’re prepared and that fully vaccinated individuals have the tools to protect themselves with a booster shot and masking where CDC recommends,” she continued, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For those who remain unvaccinated, he’ll issue a stark warning and make clear unvaccinated individuals will continue to drive hospitalizations and deaths.”
The decision of whether to impose new restrictions on businesses or gatherings is largely up to state and local officials, not Biden. But the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in some places, like New York City, has raised new questions about restrictions to curb the spread of the disease. A handful of public schools in the Washington, D.C., area have returned to virtual learning due to the uptick in cases.
The Biden administration has endorsed a “test to stay” approach to keep children in schools, but Psaki said Monday that the administration leaves it up to local school districts to make the decisions “that they feel are appropriate for their communities.”
Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the new omicron variant would cause a strain on hospital systems, particularly in areas where there are significant percentages of unvaccinated Americans.
“It’s going to take over,” Fauci said. “We are going to be in for some serious difficulties right now and we better be doing more to mitigate that.”
Fauci added “it is going to be a tough few weeks to months.”