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13 Jan, 2022 18:30

Biden pledges new freebies for fighting Covid

US to give away high-quality face coverings after setting global record for new Covid-19 cases
Biden pledges new freebies for fighting Covid

After two years of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and within days of setting a fresh global record for infections, Washington is preparing to roll out a new initiative: making protective masks available to all Americans.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday that his administration will announce details next week as to how it will provide free access to “high-quality” masks. With vaccines proving largely ineffective in stopping the spread of Covid’s highly transmissible Omicron variant, mask-wearing is being re-emphasized as a mitigation strategy.

“They are an important tool to stop the spread of Covid-19, especially Omicron,” Biden said. He added that the government will purchase an additional 500 million coronavirus tests, doubling a stockpile created to make at-home testing free for all Americans upon request.

The mask push is part of what Biden called a “whole-of-government Covid-19 surge response” amid Omicron’s rapid spread. The US broke its own daily record for new cases of the virus on Monday, tallying nearly 1.5 million, and hospitalizations were at an all-time high of 151,000 on Wednesday. The nation has suffered 845,000 deaths to date in the pandemic.

Omicron has so far proven to be relatively mild compared to earlier strains. Many of the current Covid-19 hospitalizations are incidental, meaning patients tested positive for the virus during routine screening after being admitted for unrelated medical treatment. New York Governor Kathy Hochul earlier this month asked hospitals in her state to start breaking down their Covid-19 data to show incidental cases, after it came to light that upward of 65% of patients at some locations were hospitalized with the virus – not because of the virus.

Biden, who previously made the false claim that only unvaccinated people had died from Covid-19, acknowledged on Thursday that Americans have grown weary of mitigation measures. But, he said, masks are an important tool in preventing new infections, and vaccines will ensure better health outcomes. “Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are testing positive, but what happens after that could not be more different,” the president noted.

However, he didn’t specify what type of face coverings will be given out, other than to say they will be “high-quality” masks. Another part of Biden’s surge response is to deploy additional military medical teams to help hospitals cope with their heavy Covid-19 patient loads. He announced plans last month to send 1,000 military medical workers to help overwhelmed hospitals.