(WXMI/SCRIPPS) — On Wednesday, the Biden White House laid out a new strategy for containing COVID-19 as case rates continue to drop following the omicron surge.
During a briefing of the White House COVID-19 response team, officials talked through Biden's new "National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan" that spells out the ways the administration will "protect against and treat COVID-19," "prepare for new variants," "prevent economic and educational shutdowns" and "continue to lead the effort to vaccinate the world and save lives."
Among the new initiatives laid out in the plan is a "test to treat" program that aims to expand access to antiviral pills and other drugs meant to treat those who have already been infected with COVID-19. The White House says those "one-stop" testing and drug distribution sites at local pharmacies, hospitals and VA clinics will be operational by March.
“You need to treat early to use those to the best ability, so to combine testing and treating is brilliant,” says Marcia Mansaray, deputy health officer at the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. “It's something that we do with sexually transmitted diseases, you know, so why not do it with COVID-19? And gives people better access; it minimizes the trips they have to take; it's just smart, and it will help reduce infections in the community,” Mansaray added.
While local health officials believe it will have a big impact, they say vaccination is still the number one way to cut down on serious illness and death from the virus.
“Vaccinating the world, while it's number four, really is critical, maybe even a priority to living with COVID in a normal way. Because every time someone gets another infection, that's an opportunity for this virus to mutate. Every time the virus mutates, we risk having a variant that our vaccines and our treatments don't work for,” Mansaray explained.
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“I love that that's part of the plan. I love that the U.S. has a clear, understandable and unified plan. It's something we didn't always have during the pandemic, so I think this is a positive step and this is a turning point,” she added.
Other initiatives laid out in the plan will require action from Congress. The Biden administration says it will ask lawmakers to approve new funding for at-home tests, antiviral pills, and masks to add to America's stockpile and establish new agencies and processes to better detect new variant strains of the virus.
The new plan also relies heavily on tactics the White House has already employed to fight COVID-19. The Biden administration says it will continue to "ensure that Americans — of all ages — can get the protection of an effective vaccine" and "continue to monitor the efficacy and durability of currently authorized vaccines."
"Make no mistake, President Biden will not accept just 'living with COVID' any more than we accept 'living with' cancer, Alzheimer's or AIDS," the White House wrote in a fact sheet about the new plan. "We will continue our work to stop the spread of the virus, blunt its impact on those who get infected, and deploy new treatments to dramatically reduce the occurrence of severe COVID-19 disease and deaths. "
"We are not going to just 'live with COVID.' Because of our work, we are no longer going to let COVID-19 dictate how we live," the statement read.
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