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Biden Launching New COVID-19 Campaign  12/02 06:20

   President Joe Biden is set to kick off a more urgent campaign for Americans 
to get COVID-19 booster shots Thursday as he unveils his winter plans for 
combating the coronavirus and its omicron variant with enhanced availability of 
shots and vaccines but without major new restrictions.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is set to kick off a more urgent 
campaign for Americans to get COVID-19 booster shots Thursday as he unveils his 
winter plans for combating the coronavirus and its omicron variant with 
enhanced availability of shots and vaccines but without major new restrictions.

   The plan includes a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of 
at-home COVID-19 tests and a tightening of testing requirements for people 
entering the U.S. regardless of their vaccination status. But as some other 
nations close their borders or reimpose lockdowns, officials said Biden was not 
moving to impose additional restrictions beyond his recommendation that 
Americans wear masks indoors in public settings.

   Biden said Wednesday that the forthcoming strategy, to be unveiled during a 
speech at the National Institutes of Health, would fight the virus "not with 
shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, 
testing, and more."

   The White House released details of Biden's plan early Thursday, in advance 
of the speech.

   The Biden administration has come to view widespread adoption of booster 
shots as its most effective tool for combating COVID-19 this winter. Medical 
experts say boosters provide enhanced and more enduring protection against 
COVID-19, including new variants.

   Much remains unknown about the omicron variant, including whether it is more 
contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill and whether it can 
thwart the vaccines.

   About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters under current U.S. 
policy, with more becoming eligible every day. Convincing those who have 
already been vaccinated to get another dose, officials believe, will be far 
easier than vaccinating the roughly 43 million adult Americans who haven't 
gotten a shot despite widespread public pressure campaigns to roll up their 
sleeves.

   And while Biden's vaccination-or-testing requirement for workers at larger 
employers has been held up by legal challenges, the president on Thursday will 
renew his call for businesses to move ahead and impose their own mandates on 
workers so they can stay open without outbreaks.

   In a effort to encourage more people to take the booster doses, the Biden 
administration is stepping up direct outreach to seniors -- the population most 
vulnerable to the virus. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will send 
a notice to all 63 million Medicare beneficiaries encouraging them to get 
booster doses, the White House said. The AARP will work with the administration 
on education campaigns for seniors.

   So far about 42 million Americans, about half of them seniors, have received 
a booster dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week 
broadened its booster dose recommendation to cover all Americans aged at least 
18 starting six months after their second dose of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer 
or Moderna.

   The White House said the CDC was also developing new guidance for schools in 
an effort to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for those are 
not fully vaccinated and exposed to the virus. The new policies, which the 
White House said will be released in the coming weeks, could include so-called 
"test-to-stay" policies, in which those who are considered close contacts can 
continue to go to school but wear masks and undergo serial testing, in a bid to 
minimize learning loss and disruption.

   The administration's upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover 
at-home testing is still being drafted, and many details remain to be worked 
out, including under what criteria they will be reimbursable, officials said.

   Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not be eligible, but the White 
House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would see 
easier and cheaper access to the at-home tests. The administration said it is 
making 50 million COVID-19 tests free for older people and other vulnerable 
groups for pickup at senior centers and community sites.

   Beginning next week, the White House said, all travelers to the U.S., 
regardless of nationality or vaccination status, will need to provide proof of 
a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flights. That's down 
from three days right now for those who have been vaccinated, in an added 
precaution against the omicron variant. But the White House has shelved tougher 
options, like requiring post-arrival testing or requiring quarantines upon 
arrival in the U.S.

   Biden is also extending his directive requiring masks on airplanes and other 
public transit, which had been set to expire in January, through at least the 
middle of March, the White House said.

   The administration is also informing states that it has more than 60 teams 
available to help them or their municipalities address surges in cases and 
public health shortages heading into the winter, with half aimed at bolstering 
hospital services and 20 targeted at supporting life-saving monoclonal antibody 
treatments.

 
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