WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met virtually with the National Governors Association on Monday to discuss the challenges facing the nation amid the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic, and what the federal government is doing to help.
“Look, there is no federal solution,” Biden said. “This gets solved at the state level.”
Democrat and Republican governors have discussed the rising numbers of COVID cases, especially coming after the holidays, Biden said.
“Omicron is a source of concern but it should not be a source of panic,” Biden said. “If you’re fully vaccinated, you get your booster shot and you’re highly protected. If you’re unvaccinated, you’re at a high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, being hospitalized and in rare cases even dying.”
The current state of the pandemic is not like 2020, Biden said. The nation is prepared, and knows now what it takes to save lives, and to keep schools and businesses open.
“We just have to stay focused and continue to work together,” Biden said. “My message to the governors is simple: If you need something, say something. And we are going to have your back in any way we can. Last week we took steps to bolster support for you, with No. 1 more capacity to get shots in arms, more places more vaccinators, more times for folks to get vaccinated or get a booster shot.”
The second thing the federal government is doing is more testing, and making it earlier and more cost-effective for people to be able to get tested for COVID-19, Biden said.
“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” Biden said.
The U.S. had no home-test kits when Biden took office in January 2021. Until recently the only way to get tested for COVID was to go to a limited number of clinics or drug stores where testing was offered.
“There were very few places to go, so we got to work,” Biden said. “We quadrupled the number of pharmacies offering free tests and there are now more than 20,000 places where you can get tested for free. At many locations you can book an appointment online in advance to minimize your wait. We worked with Google so you can now search ‘COVID test near me’ on Google to find a location.”
Lines for COVID tests have gotten very long in some states, Biden said. He ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up pop-up testing sites in places with high demand to help shorten the wait times. FEMA set up six new sites in New York City in five days and more are on the way.
The U.S. now has eight COVID-19 tests on the market, Biden said.
“We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December,” Biden said. “But it’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough, if we had known we would have gone harder, quicker if we could have, because steps we have taken to increase the numbe of authorize tests we’re now able to purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests to be sent to the American people for free that request it.”
The Defense Production Act is going to continue to be utilized to produce as many tests as possible, Biden said. Beginning in two weeks, private insurance will reimburse people for the cost of at-home COVID tests.
“We’re providing access to free tests for folks who don’t have insurance,” Biden said. “But we have to do more, we have to do better, and we will.”
The third item Biden talked about to the association was providing support for hospitals. Because so many people are now vaccinated and boosted the country is not seeing as steep a rise in COVID hospitalizations as it did in March 2020 or last fall.
“America has made progress, things are better, but we do know that with the rising cases that we still have tens of millions of unvaccinated people and we’re seeing hospitalizations rise,” Biden said. “It means our hospitals in some places are going to get overrun, both in terms of equipment and staff. The country has stockpiled and pre-positioned millions of gowns, masks and ventilators Biden said. He explained the nation is mobilizing an additional 1,000 military doctors, nurses and medics to help staff hospitals and FEMA is deploying hundreds of ambulances and EMS troops to transport patients.
“The bottom line is that we want to assure the American people that we’re prepared,” Biden said. “We know what it takes and as this group of bipartisan governors has shown we’re going to get through it by working together.”