Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on New Actions to Protect Americans Against Delta and Omicron Variants This

The White House

Via Teleconference

(December 1, 2021)

7:38 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Thank you for joining us tonight. Tomorrow, President Biden is going to announce new actions to protect Americans against the Delta and Omicron variants as we battle COVID-19 this winter.

Tonight, we have [senior administration official] on the call. As a reminder, this call is going to be on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and embargoed until tomorrow, 5:00 a.m. Eastern, as is the factsheet that you all already have.

I know there’s a lot of news today. This call is going to be focused on the President’s plan and the substance of the factsheet in this conversation. So, keep that in mind. We’ll keep question — we will take questions at the end.

And with that, I will pass it to [senior administration official] to walk through some questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. And thanks for everyone joining us this evening.

So tomorrow, as [senior administration official] said, the President will announce new actions to keep Americans safe from Delta and the Omicron variants as we combat COVID-19 this winter.

As you will see from the material you have in your inbox, we are pulling out all the stops to get people the maximum amount of protection as we head into the winter months.

Before I walk through the highlights, I wanted to step back and underscore what the President said earlier this week: While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic. We have the tools we need to confront this variant, to keep making progress in our fight against the virus. And we are using these tools to keep people safe, keep our schools open, and protect our economy.

We’ll get to your questions in a minute, but let me walk through a few notable areas of the plan. First, I’ll start with getting Americans boosted.

Our doctors believe that boosters provide people more protection from COVID than ever before, making them a really critical part of how we keep people safe. Nearly 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters and have not yet gotten their booster shot.

Tomorrow, the President will announce a nationwide campaign to get people their booster shots.

Pharmacies will expand availability of appointments and walk-ins, and they’ll send millions of texts, calls, emails encouraging and reminding people to get the booster.

Medicare will send a notice to the 63 million seniors encouraging boosters — the first of this — of its kind in over four years.

The AARP will collaborate with the administration to help get seniors boosted. This will include town halls, rides to booster clinics, and education events across the country, focusing on our hardest-hit and highest-risk older Americans.

Next, protecting our kids and keeping our schools open.

When the President came into office, more than half the schools in this country were closed. Today, we have a vaccine for kids age five and older. And 99 — over 99 percent of schools across the country are fully open and in person.

Tomorrow, we will announce — the President will announce steps that will ensure that remains the case, including by making sure more kids benefit from the protection of a vaccine.

So a couple of items here: First, the administration will fo- — will announce a new effort to launch family vaccination clinics across the country. These one-stop shop sites will offer vaccinations for the whole family. Kids can get their first shot; parents and grandparents can get first or second shots or boosters if it’s time.

These clinics will be held at community health centers and other trusted locations. And some will be mobile to reach far- — to reach further into hard-to-reach communities. This builds on the significant work we have made — we have done already to date to make getting vaccinated easy and convenient.

Second, Medicaid and CHIP — the Children’s Health Insurance Program — will start paying healthcare providers to talk to families about the importance of getting their kids vaccinated.

Together, these programs cover 82 million people and nearly half of all children in this country, including a significant number of Black and brown children.

Finally, the CDC will review school COVID prevention policies so entire classrooms or schools don’t have to shut down when there is a positive case. This includes releasing new findings in the weeks ahead on “test to stay” policies, quarantining, and a new school safety checklist.

Next, expanding free at-home testing for Americans.

Since the President took office, we have made significant investments in testing. On day one, there were zero at-home COVID tests on the market. Today, there are at least eight on the market. And our supply of at-home tests this month will be four times as much as it was in late Summer.

Tomorrow, we’re going even further.

First, the President will announce that health insurers must cover 100 percent of the cost of at-home tests purchased by their members. Private health insurers already cover the PCR tests people get at their doctor’s offices. With this action, they will cover at-home tests as well.

This means that the 150 million Americans with private health insurance will soon be able to be reimbursed for the cost of their at-home tests.

And to ensure easy and free testing to all, including those without private insurance, the President will announce that we will distribute 50 million free tests — at-home tests — to community sites, such as health centers and rural clinics, so that (inaudible) can reach some of the hardest-hit and hardest-to-reach communities.

Next, helping states and communities respond to cases.

So, since this summer, our COVID-19 Surge Response Teams have helped 27 states and two territories respond to the Delta surge by addressing critical needs on the ground.

To date, we have deployed over 2,000 personnel, surged over 3,200 ventilators and other supplies, and shipped over 2.3 million courses of the lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments.

As we face a new variant and rising cases during the winter months, tomorrow, the President will renew the federal government’s commitment to help with surges and help our states. Importantly, this includes making 60 emergency response team deployments available to states. And we will strengthen our national volunteer emergency medical response corps to support communities in need.

The last piece of the President’s plan I want to highlight tonight is strengthening the safety of international travel.

Already, we have very strong protocols in place to ensure the safety of international travelers and keep people safe here at home, including a requirement for foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated and pre- and post-departure testing requirements.

Tomorrow, we will announce that we are further strengthening our testing requirement so that starting early next week, all international travelers will be required to test negative within one day of their departure to the United States, and that’s regardless of nationality or vaccination status.

Let me go ahead and stop there, [senior administration official]. As I said at the top, there are several actions — these are several of the actions. And you all have a factsheet that walks you through our comprehensive list of actions.

But — so let me close by underscoring one thing: We will continue to act aggressively. We will continue to follow the science. We will continue to prepare for all scenarios and work day and night to protect the American people, keep our schools open, keep our economy growing, and get this pandemic behind us.

So, with that, let’s take some questions.

MODERATOR: Thanks, [senior administration official]. First question, let’s go to Nate Weixel at The Hill.

Q Hey, thanks for taking my question. On the international travel front, why implement these policies now? Was this something that could have been done during Delta? And then, related, would you consider some sort of similar strategy for domestic travel?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Thanks for the question. So, I think I’d start by saying we have really strengthened our international travel system pretty dramatically over the last month or so.

Now everyone who comes in — every foreign national who travels to the country via air has to be fully vaccinated. Everyone who comes in needs a negative test either one day if they’re unvaccinated or three days prior to departure. And everyone has to wear — is required to wear a mask on international and domestic flights.

We believe that tightening — and our doctors believe — tightening that testing requirement for pre-departure will help catch more cases — potential cases of people who may be positive before they fly into this country. And so, we think now is the right time to do it, and we can implement it very quickly.

On domestic, I think, as I said, the masking requirement is in place already, and, in fact, we will be extending that requirement from January to — extend it all the way until mid- March.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, let’s go to Dan Diamond.

Q Thanks so much for taking my question. I have a few about rapid at-home testing. Under the planned guidance, will at-home tests be retroactively covered for Americans who may have spent hundreds of dollars already on those tests?

And then, given the shortages that we’ve seen of at-home tests across the year, how can the Biden administration be confident that there will be sufficient supply once insurers will be covering these tests too?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so it’s a good question. So, the first one, Dan: No, it will not be retroactively covering tests.

On the testing supply, we have done a ton to increase testing capacity in this country, including in the at-home test. We have $3 billion worth of investments to accelerate the manufacturing of those rapid tests.

You know, as I mentioned in my remarks, we had no tests on the market when we entered office. We now have eight tests on the market, and supply will quadruple this month from where it was at the end of summer.

So, we’re doing a ton to ramp up all tests, but, specifically, a big focus on ramping up these at-home tests.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, let’s go to Spencer Kimball at CNBC.

Q Hi, can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yep.

Q Yeah. Okay. My question is about the vaccination and testing portion of this. So OSHA said this month that it’s suspending activities related to enforcement and implementation. So, to be clear, the administration is asking businesses to voluntarily move forward with requirements. Right?

And related to that, are there any plans to change the compliance deadlines, given that the litigation might not be resolved until the New Year?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Spencer. Good question. I think what we — what we’re doing is what we’ve done all along, which is we’re asking businesses to step forward and do what’s right to protect their workers and to protect their communities, which is to put in place some sort of vaccination requirement or testing requirement for the workplace.

We’ve now already seen about 60 percent of work — employers do this across the country. And I’d say, just as the U.S. government, we’ve seen how much this has worked. We’re the largest employer. I think we have about 3.5 million employees — a diverse employee base across every geography and many different sectors. And we have successfully implemented our own vaccination requirement, which is the strictest requirement. And we now have 92 percent of our employees vaccinated and I think over 96 percent compliance. And that number goes up every day.

And so, we know these work, and we think it’s in the best interest of public health and employers to put them in place.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, let’s go to Josh Wingrove at Bloomberg. Hey, Josh, you’re unmuted.

Hey, Josh, you’re unmuted.

Q Yeah, [senior administration official], sorry. You were — it says you were muting me over and over. And I won’t hold it against you. Thank you. Thank you kindly and sorry about that.

Can you say whether you considered doing PCR tests as opposed to a one-day window per antigen test? Some countries, of course, require a PCR test for arrival. It — was that something you thought about? And if not, why not, given that there are questions, of course, as to the — whether all antigen tests can pick up Omicron? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Josh, that’s a good question. So the CDC, really — they did look at this. They looked at the question of: How do you tighten these testing requirements? And I think on (inaudible) they came out on what we’re doing, obviously, in their recommendation, which is to tighten the timeline and not necessarily the type of test.

I will tell you that we are continuously looking and the FDA is looking at the efficacy of these tests against — of all tests — against the Omicron variant. And if we were to find that a test didn’t work, we would certainly take it off our list of accepted tests for international travel.

But, so far, we haven’t seen that.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, Kelly O’Donnell, NBC News.

Q Good eve- —

MODERATOR: One second, Kelly.

Q I think I’m having the Josh Wingrove problem.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Laughs.) We hear you.

Q Okay, great. Sorry about that. Has there been any outreach, since you have manifests of international travelers who arrived into the country prior to the Monday enactment of the restrictions — any outreach to them to do any additional testing to see if any further symptoms have come up, like the individual in California who came forward after being an international traveler?

And do you think there needs to be any enhanced generalized surveillance of samples — of testing that are being done in the U.S. when people go in with symptoms to determine whether it’s Delta or the new variants?

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