500 million free home COVID-19 tests is Biden's new Omicron plan

The White House has announced another addition to its ongoing COVID-19 response, this time stating that the US will expand public access to free testing. This effort will include, starting next month, providing half a billion at-home COVID-19 tests to the public for free. This new offering will join other methods intended to help address the pandemic and its impact on the nation.

Free at-home testing starts in January

The Biden administration announced the new series of expansions and additions to the nation's ongoing government COVID-19 support measures, which aim to help states and local governments deal with new case outbreaks, as well as the other big disruptions caused by the pandemic. These new additions arrived only hours after the CDC published new data showing omicron is now the dominant variant circulating in the US.

According to the White House, the free COVID-19 tests will be sent out starting in January; a website will be made available soon for the public to request the tests.

Beyond these tests, the administration says that new federal COVID-19 test sites will soon start popping up around the US. These destinations are intended to help states that are seeing large case numbers and that need help meeting testing demands. Tests will be produced more rapidly, as well, with the continued use of the Defense Production Act.

The White House is also looking to the future when it comes to vaccination capacity, stating that President Biden will soon make another announcement, that one related to expanding the ability for people across the US to get the shot. At this time, there are around 90,000 vaccination locations throughout the nation, including some that are open to walk-in visitors and pop-up clinics.

Several other changes were announced today, including one that'll involve a revision to the PREP Act Declaration. With this, the White House says greater "flexibility" will be possible when it comes to pharmacy interns and pharmacists giving various vaccine shots over state lines. Underscoring the potential severity of the disease, the administration revealed the government will continue to deploy more ventilators to hospitals across the US, particularly ones struggling to keep up with demand.

Dire warning for unvaccinated

This latest announcement comes only a few days after the White House held a briefing on the latest state of the pandemic. Kicking off the press conference was a lengthy statement by the White House's COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zeints, who earned praise from the vaccinated over a blunt statement that has rubbed many anti-vaxxers the wrong way:

We are intent on not letting Omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated. You've done the right thing, and we will get through this.

For the unvaccinated, you're looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.

The White House focused heavily on the SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant, which is now the dominant form of the virus in the US. Early evidence indicates this variant may be more contagious than the delta variant, which drove multiple waves of infections in the latter half of 2021.

Public health officials continue to urge the public to get vaccinated, including a booster shot (when eligible), to help maintain immunity against the virus. Though it is possible to contract the virus after full vaccination, experts note the infections are often asymptomatic or very mild. In comparison, unvaccinated infections may lead to hospitalization, permanent health consequences, and death.