WH COVID-19 team appoints testing czar, explores disguise upgrades as it d…

The Biden administration said Wednesday it has appointed a new COVID-19 testing coordinator and is considering ways to obtain better-performing masks as President Biden scrambles to catch up with the omicron wave and meet need for diagnostics and other safeguards in schools, workplaces and households.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Tom Inglesby, an infectious diseases expert at Johns Hopkins University, is a leading expert who will help Americans screen themselves for the virus.

“We continue to work across multiple fronts to increase Americans’ access to testing and we’re all very, very grateful for his willingness, Tom’s willingness, to rule these efforts,” Mr. Zients said.

He announced the addition hours after the White House said it will send an additional 10 million tests per month — 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab tests — to K-12 schools to help them stay open for in-person learning and allow students to “test to stay” after exposure.

“The omicron variant is driving unheard of need for testing. So we need to ensure school leaders have the sustain they need to meet that need,” Mr. Zients said. “These 10 million additional tests obtainable each month will allow schools to double the quantity of the testing they were performing in November. The president is clear that the nation’s schools can and should be open and we have given state and local leaders the resources to ensure they can be open.”

Mr. Zients also said the government is looking at ways to make N95-grade and other high-performing masks obtainable to more Americans but did not provide more details.

“Right now we’re strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks obtainable to all Americans and we’ll continue to follow the science here,” he said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also said the CDC is working on an update to its disguise guidance so that Americans have a better understanding of what kind of protection they receive from each kind.

She said any disguise is better than no disguise, and it’s important that people choose one they are willing to use consistently.

“We want to provide Americans the best and most updated information to choose what disguise is going to be right for them,” Dr. Walensky said.

The White House team announced the measures one day after federal disease officials faced a bruising grilling from senators who said the administration wasted basic test-production time during a lull in viral transmission in mid-2021.

Lawmakers said the administration was caught flat-footed by the omicron variant, which is blanketing the country but appears to be less harsh in terms of bad outcomes than the delta variant that swept the country last summer.

Dr. Walensky highlighted a study by Kaiser Permanente Southern California that looked at tens of thousands of situations and found people with omicron were 53% less likely to be hospitalized with symptomatic COVID-19 than those with delta, 74% less likely to end up in the ICU and 91% less likely to die.

nevertheless, Dr. Walensky said COVID-19 deaths are averaging 1,600 per day, an increase of 40% over the past week. She suspects some of those deaths are remnants of the delta wave, already though omicron accounts for nearly all new sequenced virus samples.

She also pointed to the sheer number of people being infected by omicron.

“The sudden and steep rise in situations due to omicron is resulting in unheard of daily case counts, sickness, absenteeism, and strains on our healthcare system,” she said. “The risk of hospitalization remains low especially among people who are up to date on their COVID vaccines. However, the staggering rise in situations over 1 million new situations each day has led to a high number of total hospitalizations.”

Mr. Zients defended the administration’s work to obtain a different portfolio of drugs for COVID-19 after GOP senators said therapies were sidelined in favor of the vaccine push.

He said they secured 20 million treatment courses of Pfizer’s antiviral pill, the first 10 million of which will be obtainable by June.

And he said the U.S. secured another 600,000 courses of a monoclonal antibody treatment from GlaxoSmithKline that’s been shown to be effective against omicron, meaning 1 million courses will be obtainable by March.

Mr. Zients said the U.S. also will have 1 million courses, by March, of AstraZeneca’s preventive COVID-19 treatment for immunocompromised people who don’t assistance from vaccines.

“Bottom line, we’ve acted aggressively to sustain and obtain a different portfolio of COVID treatments,” Mr. Zients said. “And as a consequence, our nation’s medicine cabinet has never been more stocked.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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