WASHINGTON – Tighter travel rules, free at-home tests and booster shots are key elements of President Joe Biden’s latest strategy to combat the rapidly evolving coronavirus.

Biden is scheduled to promote his plan during a visit to the National Institutes of Health on Thursday as people begin hunkering down for winter and gathering for the holidays.

The components include:

  • Travelers entering the country via air must test positive for COVID within one day, regardless of their vaccination status, or nationality.
  • Extending through March 18 the requirement that masks be worn on airplanes, trains and public transportation.
  • The cost for coronavirus testing at home is covered 100% by private insurance.  
  • Launching a public education campaign to encourage 100 million adults to get boosters, with a special focus on seniors.

Biden’s new plan is being released a day after the United States’ first confirmed case of the omicron variant was announced and as a new poll shows rising frustration and waning optimism about the state of COVID-19 vaccinations across the country.

More than half of adults (58%) say they are “frustrated” about the status of COVID-19 vaccinations, an increase from the 50% who felt that way as the initial vaccination effort began in January, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday.

From 66% to 48%, the percentage of people who are optimistic about vaccinations’ status has fallen.

Republicans are the main drivers of higher frustration and lower optimism, with a few exceptions, and independents to lesser degrees.

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Even before the omicron variant was detected this month, the Biden administration had been working on a coronavirus mitigation strategy for the winter, when people will be indoors more often as well as traveling for the holidays. 

The latest variant, which started circulating as people are still getting infected by the delta variant, only added to the urgency of the administration’s message that more people need to get vaccinated, including receiving a booster if eligible. 

“I keep coming back to that because that’s really the solution to this problem,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday after the first confirmed case of the omicron variant in the United States was announced.

The new strategy includes launching hundreds of one-stop-shop sites for entire families — children through grandparents — to get vaccinated or boosted.

The White House says that pharmacies will be able to offer more appointments as well as walk-in vaccinations.

Medicare will contact 63 million seniors to encourage booster shots.

The government’s efforts will be boosted by AARP which will offer rides to booster clinics and hold town halls and other educational events across the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly every American 65 and over has received at least one dose. However, only half of them have had a booster.

70% of Americans at least once have taken a shot. 21% have had their shots boosted.

A federal appeals court has halted Biden’s attempt to raise vaccination rates by mandating workers in larger companies to be vaccinated and tested regularly.

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For the time being, the administration is “asking businesses to step forward and do what’s right to protect their workers and to protect their communities, which is to put in place some sort of vaccination requirement or testing requirement for the workplace,” according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the president’s strategy on condition of anonymity.

A majority of workers at larger businesses either say their employer already requires vaccination (36%) or say they want their employer to require it (17%), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey. 

The public overall is split on Biden’s vaccination requirement for workers, with slightly more saying they support (52%) than oppose (45%) it.

The pandemic is also dividing the public: 44% are in favor and 48% disagree.

Maureen Groppe is a Washington correspondent who has worked on Washington since nearly 30 years. Follow her Twitter @mgroppe.

Source: USAToday.com


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