President Biden will announce a sweeping plan Thursday to combat the coronavirus this winter, requiring all U.S.-bound travelers to present a negative test within a day of departure and forcing private insurers to reimburse enrollees for the cost of rapid at-home tests.
Administration officials said they will accept both rapid antigen tests and more sensitive “PCR” tests from travelers under the new rule, which takes effect early next week, but will take a test off its list of acceptable diagnostics if it doesn’t pass muster in detecting the newly discovered omicron variant.
Omicron is driving renewed concerns around the virus and Mr. Biden’s decision to address the nation on his plans to try and avoid a winter spike of COVID-19. Cases are rising rapidly in South Africa, where the variant was detected, and California reported the first omicron case in the U.S. in a traveler who came back from the African nation in late November.
The administration decided to forego any new rules on post-arrival testing or quarantine — provisions that had been under discussion but would have been difficult to implement.
The White House is not imposing testing rules on domestic flights but it is extending its mask mandate on those flights until March 18.
Administration officials said health insurers will be required to cover 100% of the cost of at-home rapid tests, which will be a popular screening tool ahead of holiday gatherings. Officials seemed confident there would be enough tests to go around even if insurers pick up the tab.
SEE ALSO: Biden to roll out new travel rules after first case of omicron found in U.S.
“Supply will quadruple this month from where it was in the summer,” a senior administration official said.
Officials said 150 million Americans who have private insurance will benefit from the new rule but federal agencies will use the rulemaking process to fill in the lines of the process, including any limits on how many test kits will be covered.
“For those not covered by private insurance, in addition to more than 20,000 federally-supported free testing sites across the U.S., at-home tests will be distributed through key community sites, such as health centers and rural clinics,” a White House fact sheet said.
Senior administration officials said they are “pulling out all the stops” to thwart COVID-19 even as they characterize the omicron variant as cause for concern but not pandemic.
On other fronts, Mr. Biden will make 60 “winter COVID emergency response teams” available to states if they see surges and encourage businesses to mandate the vaccine for employees or else test unvaccinated workers weekly.
The plea amounts to a call for voluntary compliance with a regulation his administration put forward last month. It is tied up in court, however, ahead of the Jan. 4 deadline to begin testing.
Mr. Biden will announce expanded pharmacy hours as part of a nationwide push to get booster shots into the nearly 100 million vaccinated Americans who are eligible for another dose but have not come forward.
The administration will also work with AARP, a key lobby for older Americans, to promote extra doses among Americans.
Mr. Biden will also promote vaccinations among kids ages 5 to 11, encouraging families to get their children vaccinated at family clinics while parents and grandparents get their boosters alongside them.
And the president will promote “test to stay” programs that help schools can screen individuals and stay open instead of shutting down.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.