Biden redoubled his focus on testing amid shortages and confusion

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, January 11, 2022, in Washington. The Biden administration is increasing federal support for COVID-19 testing for schools in a bid to keep them open amid the omicron wave. The White House said on Wednesday that the administration is making a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million laboratory PCR tests available to schools as of this month. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)

PA

The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to expand the supply and accessibility of COVID-19 tests as it faces growing criticism of long lines and supply shortages for testing at the nationwide and confusion over when to get tested amid the omicron wave.

The White House announced on Wednesday that a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million laboratory PCR tests will be made available to schools from this month to alleviate supply shortages and promote reopening in safe schools.

He said Dr Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, will join the COVID-19 team to oversee the push for improved testing. The moves come just days before private insurers are required to reimburse Americans for tests and the launch of a new federal website that allows Americans to order free tests to ship to their doors.

The surge in testing supply, however, will likely be too late for many Americans trying to safely navigate the wave of omicron-fueled cases, which are already showing signs of peaking.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered advice on Wednesday on when Americans should use tests – which were rare as Americans were traveling and seeing family during peak holiday season.

“Americans should be tested when they have symptoms that appear to be COVID-19,” she said, including fever, cough, sore throat, respiratory symptoms and muscle pain. She also said they should be tested after known exposure to the virus, usually five days after being exposed, or earlier as part of testing protocols to stay in schools and workplaces.

“Definitely if you’re going to get together as a family, if you’re going to a gathering where people are immunocompromised or where they are elderly or where you have people who might be unvaccinated or poorly protected from a vaccine that might be an opportunity you want. test, ”she added.

The school testing initiative announced on Wednesday comes after the nation’s third-largest public school system, in Chicago, was shut down for days after a standoff between teachers and officials over reopening policies. The closure has been a black eye for President Joe Biden, who has made reopening schools – and keeping them open – a priority.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said students should be in their classrooms and the announcement shows the administration’s commitment to helping schools stay open.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure our children have the opportunity to stay in school,” Cardona said Wednesday on “CBS Mornings”. “This is where they need to be, and we know we can do it safely.”

States are requesting the testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cardona said, adding that he expected distribution to begin as early as next week.

“We recognize that schools are the hubs of the community” and that they should be open to instruction, added the secretary, saying it is “vital for our students”.

“We have been very clear, in public and in private, that we want to see schools open,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. resources needed to deal with anything that may arise during the pandemic. “

The new crop of testing is enough to cover only a small fraction of the more than 50 million students and educators in schools nationwide, but it adds to more than $ 10 billion spent on workplace testing. school allowed in the COVID-19 relief law and about $ 130 billion in that law to keep children in school.

The administration hopes the tests will fill critical gaps in schools that are struggling to get tests with existing federal funding or are facing outbreaks of the more communicable COVID-19 variant.

“Today’s commitment is a big step forward in enabling school districts that have struggled to get the tests that teachers and staff rely on to see what isn’t showing,” he said. said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The administration is also working to target other federally-backed testing sites to support school testing programs, including locating Federal Emergency Management Agency sites in schools.

Additionally, the CDC is expected to issue new guidelines later this week to help schools implement “test-to-stay” policies, in which schools use rapid tests to keep close contact with those whose test is. positive in class.

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Associated Press editor Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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