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Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday

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Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Los Angeles Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Los Angeles to host Summit of the Americas in June

The U.S. will host the Ninth Summit of the Americas in LA in June 2022 focused on “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, & Equitable Future”

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President Joe Biden (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON – The White House announced Tuesday that Los Angeles has been chosen by the Biden administration to host this year’s Summit of the Americas, the institutionalized gatherings of the heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere.

The Summit of the Americas is where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced in the Americas.

The United States will host the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June 2022 with a focus on “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future” for the Western hemisphere.

The vital national interests of the United States are inextricably bound to the fortunes of our closest neighbors in the Americas. To that end, the ability of our democracies to close the gap between what we promise and what we deliver depends in no small part on what we do, together, to make it better,” President Biden said in his statement.

“The Summit of the Americas is the only hemisphere-wide convening of leaders from the countries of North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean. U.S. leadership in the Summit process underscores our deep and historical commitment to the people of the Western Hemisphere as well as our commitment to realizing the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative,” the statement said.

“Working with the city of Los Angeles, Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, and Governor of California Gavin Newsom, the United States looks forward to convening leaders and stakeholders across the hemisphere to advance our shared commitment to economic prosperity, security, human rights, and dignity,” the statement added.

U.S. officials hope will help mend diplomatic fences in the Western Hemisphere, officials familiar with the decision told the Los Angeles Times.

The administration is expected to cite the city’s “deep and robust” ties throughout the hemisphere as one of the reasons it was selected, according to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter ahead of the formal announcement.

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Jay Gilliam appointed to lead USAID LGBTQ initiatives

Former HRC staffer worked for agency during Obama administration

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USAID Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agency for International Development has appointed Jay Gilliam to lead its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights around the world.

Gilliam was previously the director of the Human Rights Campaign Global program.

The Texas native worked at USAID from 2012-2016. Todd Larson, a retired U.N. official who became USAID’s senior LGBTQ coordinator in 2014, is among those with whom Gilliam worked.

“Both of those experiences taught me about the importance of being able to really talk about this work and amplify it and the ways to do that safely, but also the ways that it’s really important for the U.S. government to be able to lead in this space,” Gilliam told the Los Angeles Blade on Dec. 15 during a telephone interview.

“Being in touch with so many strong advocates and leaders from around the world through that position I think gives me a stronger sense of the needs of the community, the connections,” he added, referring to his HRC work. “Hopefully I can bring into the work that USAID is doing and open doors and get support and resources to those advocates and leaders.”

Gilliam’s position, senior LGBTQI+ coordinator, is within USAID’s Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation. He said he has “an open line to” USAID Administrator Samantha Power, who is a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights.

Power on Dec. 6 tweeted a picture of her meeting with Gilliam.

“With decades of global human rights experience, including many years at USAID and HRC, Jay has trained advocates across the globe to advance LGBTQI+ equality,” tweeted Power. “We’re thrilled to have his expertise in this role.”

Gilliam told the Blade his “overall vision” is to “make it easier for USAID staff and our partners” to advance LGBTQ-specific issues and to “make it easier” for activists around the world “to engage with the agency.”

“For me, this kind of means helping us to recognize advocates better understand USAID’s work,” he said. “This means learning from LGBTQI+ people around the world about their needs and co-creating and resourcing projects that best respond to those needs.”

“This means creating and sharing tools necessary for those of us at USAID and our partners, as well as the broader global development community and global LGBTQI+ community, to better integrate the needs identified for LGBTQI+ persons,” added Gilliam.

Gilliam said he will work to ensure USAID is “giving rightful attention to all parts of our community, the L, the G, the B, the T, the Q and I and all those along the spectrum so that we can really understand and help and support and get people or maybe more attention to those that haven’t gotten it yet.” Gilliam also told the Blade that he is committed to intersectionality.

“I always like to think about it from my own perspective of being black and gay and sitting in many different communities and seeing the way that I am included or not included in that work,” he said. “And I think about that in relation to the needs from the global LGBTQI+ community and the way that they might have multiple identities that include privileges, that include being marginalized by broader society.”

“There’s thinking through and working with colleagues at USAID who are also working with marginalized communities and making sure that we are also paying attention to where our work intersects and being able to shine a spotlight and address the needs coming out of those intersectional communities,” added Gilliam. “For me, it actually also means working in an integrated way across our development space. And so, while there is clearly a need to focus on human rights efforts with LGBTQI+ community and addressing needs of violence, stigma, discrimination, criminalization, there’s also lots of other ways and needs that our community has that USAID is working on.”

Gilliam said expanding economic and educational opportunities are among the other aspects of USAID’s work that directly impact LGBTQ people.

“Focusing on the way that we are integrating LGBTQI+ issues across the agency and the work that it does, it’s also for me and intersectional way to look at this work,” he told the Blade.

The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Gilliam told the Blade his position “is a reflection of how USAID is able to” implement the directive.

“It gives me the opportunity to engage with people around the agency to say that this is an administration priority that is really important for folks to be able to work on,” said Gilliam.

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Biden excoriates misinformation sources urges Americans get vaccinated

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President Joe Biden addresses Omicron and other coronavirus issues (Screenshot via C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden, in a televised mid-afternoon national address from the White House on Tuesday, urged Americans to get vaccinated, get a booster shot, and wear a mask plus take other precautions against being infected with the coronavirus as a new and much more rapidly infectious variant takes hold across the country.

First, how concerned should you be about Omicron, which is now the dominant variant in this country and it happened so quickly?
 
The answer is straightforward: If you are not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned.  You’re at a high risk of getting sick.  And if you get sick, you’re likely to spread it to others, including friends and family.  And the unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in a hospital or even dying,” the president said.
 
Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 in the past many months has been unvaccinated.  Unvaccinated.” he added.

The president emphasized that his urging action by Americans was not motivated by political considerations. Biden mentioned that even former President Trump had gotten his booster shot, and the president said it’s Americans’ “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated.

“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” the president said. “Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”

While urging Americans to get boosted or vaccinated the president took aim at the problem of vaccine resistance which he blamed on the mostly right wing media for promulgating organized opposition to vaccines and necessary measures recommended by health officials to protect lives.

Look, the unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices.  But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media.”
 
You know, these companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters,” he said then angrily added; “It’s wrong, it’s immoral, and I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it.  Stop it now.”

Addressing the need for greater testing capabilities the president outlined his administration’s plans to assist states with Federal assistance and to purchase 500 million at-home test kits.

We’re going to continue to add federal testing sites where needed so that if you want an immediate test, there will be a place where you can go get it. We also need to do better with at-home testing.  So, I’m announcing today: The federal government will purchase one half billion — that’s not million; billion with a “B” — additional at-home rapid tests, with deliveries starting in January,” Biden said. 
 
We’ll be getting these tests to Americans for free.  And we’ll have websites where you can get them delivered to your home. We have arranged for it to be easier for you to find a free COVID testing site near you on Google.  Just enter “COVID test near me” in the Google search bar and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested,” he added.

It marks a major policy shift for the president, who earlier had called for many Americans to purchase the hard-to-find tests on their own and then seek reimbursement from health insurance. For the first time, the U.S. government will send free COVID-19 tests directly to Americans, after more than a year of urging by public health experts.

I know you’re tired, and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it,” Biden said. “We also have more tools than we had before. We’re ready, we’ll get through this.”

The president underscored that there would not be a return to a mass lockdown of schools or businesses.

He stressed; “We should all be concerned about Omicron but not panicked.  If you’re fully vaccinated, and especially if you got your booster shot, you are highly protected.  And if you’re unvaccinated, you’re at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized, and even dying. So, the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot.”

The president also outlined additional measures his administration was taking to combat the Omicron surge.

In addition, I have directed the Pentagon to mobilize an additional 1,000 troops to be deployed to help staff local hospitals and expand capacity.  That’s 1,000 military doctors, nurses, and medics.  We’ve already started moving — military — excuse me, medical teams.  They’ve already landed in Wisconsin and Indiana this week. And this is on top of 300 federal medical — medical personnel that are now on the ground, having deployed since we learned about Omicron,” Biden said.

Look, while we know staffing is the biggest need for our hospitals, some may need more beds as well.  We’re prepared.  I’ve directed FEMA to activate the National Response Center and begin deploying teams now to provide additional hospital beds.  We’ll begin to construct emergency capacity near hospitals, in parking garages, and nearby buildings to be ready if needed,” he noted.

*****

The City of Los Angeles NotifyLA System after the president’s remarks sent out the following:

LA City: COVID-19 rates are increasing. If you were exposed to someone with COVID or are experiencing symptoms, get tested before holiday gatherings. Take precautions, such as masking and distancing. Get vaccinated. If you’ve already been vaccinated, booster shots are effective against Omicron. There are hundreds of locations that provide free testing and vaccines across LA County: 

Find testing sites at: Coronavirus.LACity.org/Testing

Find vaccination locations at: Coronavirus.LACity.org/GetVaccinated

Learn more about reducing your risk at: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/ncorona2019/reducingrisk/

=====================================

Ciudad de LA: Los casos de COVID-19 están aumentando. Si estuvo expuesto a alguien con COVID o está experimentando síntomas, hágase la prueba antes de las fiestas navideñas. Tome precauciones con usar máscara y mantenga una sana distancia. Vacúnese. Si ya se vacunó, los refuerzos son efectivos contra el Omicron. Hay cientos de sitios que brindan pruebas y vacunas gratuitas en todo el Condado de Los Ángeles:

Para encontrar sitios de prueba: Coronavirus.LACity.org/Testing

Para encontrar sitios de vacunación: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/ncorona2019/vaccine/hcwsignup/Spanish.htm
Obtenga más información sobre cómo reducir su riesgo en: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/ncorona2019/reducingriskSpanish/

Biden Delivers Remarks on Covid Response Efforts | NBC News

Full Text of remarks by President Biden on the Fight Against COVID-19

Good afternoon.  I promised when I got elected that I’d always give it to you straight from the shoulder — the good, the bad, the truth.

So, as we head into Christmas weekend, I want to answer your questions about the rising number of COVID cases — COVID-19 cases.

And I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried, and frustrated I know you are.  I know how you’re feeling.

For many of you, this will be the first or even the second Christmas where you look — across the table will be an empty kitchen chair there.

Tens of millions have gotten sick, and we’ve all experienced an upheaval in our lives.

But while COVID has been a tough adversary, we’ve shown that we’re tougher — tougher because we have the power of science and vaccines that prevent illness and save lives, and tougher because of our resolve.

So, that — let me answer some questions that lay out the steps the Vice President and I are taking to prepare for the rising number of cases experts tell us we could expect in the weeks ahead.

First, how concerned should you be about Omicron, which is now the dominant variant in this country and it happened so quickly?

The answer is straightforward: If you are not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned.  You’re at a high risk of getting sick.  And if you get sick, you’re likely to spread it to others, including friends and family.  And the unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in a hospital or even dying. 

Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 in the past many months has been unvaccinated.  Unvaccinated.

But if you’re among the majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated, and especially if you’ve gotten the booster shot — that third shot — you’re much — you have much, much less reason to worry.  You have a high degree of protection against severe illness. 

And because Omicron spreads so easily, we’ll see some fully vaccinated people get COVID, potentially in large numbers.  There will be positive cases in every office, even here in the White House, among the unv- — among the vaccinated — among the vaccinated — from Omicron.

But these cases are highly unlikely to lead to serious illness.

Vaccinated people who get COVID may get ill, but they’re protected from severe illness and death.  That’s why you should still remain vigilant.

According to our doctors, even if you’re fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask when indoors in public settings.

Wearing a mask provides extra protection for you and those around you.  And I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. 

The answer is yes, you can, if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated, particularly if you’ve gotten your booster shot.

If you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned it.

You know, you’ve done the right thing.  You could enjoy the holiday season.

And thanks to the progress on vaccinations this fall, we’ve gone from nearly 90 million adults in July who had not even started their vaccination process to fewer than 40 million today.  Still too many, but down from 90 to 40.

All these people who have not been vaccinated, you have an obligation to yourselves, to your family, and, quite frankly — I know I’ll get criticized for this — to your country.

Get vaccinated now.  It’s free.  It’s convenient.  I promise you, it saves lives.  And I, honest to God, believe it’s your patriotic duty.

Another question folks are asking is: What can you do to make yourself and your family feel safer and be safer?  The answer is simple: Get your booster shot.  Wear a mask.

Our doctors have made it clear: Booster shots provide the strongest of protections.  Unfortunately, we still have tens of millions of people who are eligible for the booster shot who have not yet gotten it.  They’ve gotten the first two shots, but they’ve not gotten the booster.

Folks, the booster shots are free and widely available.  Over 60 million Americans, including 62 percent of eligible seniors, our most vulnerable group, have gotten their booster shots.

I got my booster shot as soon as they were available.  And just the other day, former President Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot.  It may be one of the few things he and I agree on.

People with booster shots are highly protected.  Join them.  Join us.  It’s been six months or more since my second shot.  If it’s been six months or more for your second shot — when I got my booster — you can get yours today if you’ve been six months or more since your second shot. 

Another question that folks are asking is: Are we going back to March 2020 — not this last March 2021, but March 2020 — when the pandemic first hit?  That’s what I keep getting asked.

The answer is absolutely no.  No. 

Here are three big differences between then and now: One — number one — the first one — more than 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated.  In March of 2020, no one was fully vaccinated.  What that means is, today, as cases — a case of COVID-19 for a fully vaccinated and boosted person will most likely mean no symptoms or mild ones similar to the common respiratory viruses.

Over 200 million Americans should have the peace of mind that they did not have in March of 2020: They’re protected from hospitalization, and they’re protected from death.

Second point: We’re prepared today for what’s coming.  In March of 2020, we were not ready.  Today, we’ve spocktiled [sic] enough — we’ve stockpiled enough gowns, masks, and ventilators to deal with the surge of hospitalizations among the unvaccinated. 

Today, we’re ready.

And as I’ll explain in a few minutes, we’re going to be reinforcing our hospitals, helping them.

Number three, we know a lot more today than we did back in March of 2020.  For example, last year, we thought the only way to keep your children safe was to close your — close our schools. 

Today, we know more and we have more resources to keep those schools open.  We can — you can get 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated — a tool we didn’t have until last month.

Today, we don’t have to shut down schools because of a case of COVID-19.  Now, if a student tests positive, other students can take the test and stay in the classroom if they’re not infected rather than closing the whole school or having to quarantine.

We can keep our K-through-12 schools open, and that’s exactly what we should be doing.

So, folks, let me summarize: We should all be concerned about Omicron but not panicked.  If you’re fully vaccinated, and especially if you got your booster shot, you are highly protected.  And if you’re unvaccinated, you’re at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized, and even dying.

So, the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot.

And, no, this is not March of 2020.  Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated.  We’re prepared.  We know more.  We just have to stay focused.  So that’s where we stand.

Now, let me tell you about the additional steps I’m ordering today to take on what is coming.  I know you’ve heard a lot of this in the news already this morning.

Three weeks ago, I laid out a COVID-19 Action Plan for this winter that prepared us for this moment.  Today, we’re making the plan even stronger.

First, we’re setting up our vaccination and booster efforts — we’re stepping it up significantly.  In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the highest vaccination rates since last spring.  And we aren’t as vaccinated, as a country, as we should be, though.  That’s why we have added 10,000 new vaccination sites on top of the 80,000 sites that are already we had — we already had in place, and even more will open in January. 

I know there are some parts of this country where people are very eager to get their booster, where it’s harder to get an appointment.  Excuse me.  (Coughs.)

So starting this week, I’ll be deploying hundreds more vaccinators and more sites to help get the booster shots in people’s arms. 

I’ve ordered FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency –- to stand up new pop-up vaccination clinics all across the country where you can get that booster shot.

We’ve opened — (coughs) — excuse me — we’ve opened FEMA vaccination sites in Washington State and New Mexico recently as cases have increased.  And today, I’m directing FEMA to stand up new sites in areas where there is high demand.

These steps are going to help us add more — more and more booster appointments in over — just over the next few weeks. 

I also want to say a word to parents: If your children are not vaccinated, please get them vaccinated.  If you’re a parent -– understandably — who waited to see how the first shots went with other kids before getting your own kid vaccinated, you can stop waiting.  Six million children in our country ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated.  Get your children protected today — now.

And for those parents out there who have a child that’s too young to be vaccinated — that is under the age of five — I know this can still be a scary time.  But one thing — one thing you can and must do while we await vaccines for children under five: Get yourself fully vaccinated and boosted, as well as those around you — your children, your caregivers, your siblings.

It’s critical to mask up in public indoor places.

We know that our youngest children have only rarely been impacted by serious COVID cases — COVID-19 cases, but they can be further protected if they’re surrounded by vaccinated people.

And again, to folks who are not vaccinated: You may think you’re putting only yourself at risk, but it’s your choice.  Your choice is not just a choice about you; it affects other people.  You’re putting other people at risk — your loved ones, your friends, neighbors, strangers you run into.  And your choice can be the difference between life or death.

The longer the virus is around, the more likely variants form that may be deadlier than the ones that have come before.

Let me say again and again and again and again: Please get vaccinated.  It’s the only responsible thing to do.  And those who are not vaccinated are causing hospitals to overrun — become overrun again.

I just spoke to the governor of New York.  Every COVID-19 hospital [hospitalization] means someone with a heart attack, cancer, or other serious illness may not get that bed and that lifesaving care they need in the hospital.

Look, let me give it to you straight again: Omicron is serious, potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.

Let me be clear: Thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine.  And thanks to my administration and the hard work of Americans, we led a rollout that made America
among the world leaders in getting shots in arms. 

But uptake slowed this summer as vaccine resistance among some hardened.  Look, the unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices.  But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media.

You know, these companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters.

It’s wrong, it’s immoral, and I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it.  Stop it now.

One of the other things that we know that has to be done is more testing.  Because Omicron spreads easily, especially among the unvaccinated, it’s critically important that we know who’s infected.  That means we need more testing.

And on that score, we are now [not] where we should be.

Yes, we have over 20,000 free testing sites.  Yes, we’ve used the Defense Production Act and spent $3 billion to greatly expand the number of at-home tests available for purchase online and at your local pharmacy.  And, yes, we’ve made sure insurance covers the PCR tests you get in a hospital or at your doctor’s office. 

But, starting next month, private insurance will all cover — also cover at-home testing so you can order a test online and get reimbursed.  We’re providing access to free at-home tests for those who may have insurance as well — may not have insurance, I should say, as well. 

But it’s not enough.  We have to do more.  We have to do better, and we will.

Starting this week, the federal government will set up emergency testing sites in areas that need additional testing capacity.  Before Christmas, the first several of these federal testing sites will be up and running in New York City with many more to come. 

This free testing is going to help reduce the waiting lines — the time you have to stand there and — and sometimes it’s an hour or more.

We’re going to continue to add federal testing sites where needed so that if you want an immediate test, there will be a place where you can go get it.

We also need to do better with at-home testing.  So, I’m announcing today: The federal government will purchase one half billion — that’s not million; billion with a “B” — additional at-home rapid tests, with deliveries starting in January. 

We’ll be getting these tests to Americans for free.  And we’ll have websites where you can get them delivered to your home. 

We have arranged for it to be easier for you to find a free COVID testing site near you on Google.  Just enter “COVID test near me” in the Google search bar and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested.

And we’re going to continue to use the Defense Production Act as we did earlier this month to make sure we’re producing as many tests and as quickly as possible. 

The bottom line is it’s a lot better than it was, but we’re taking even more steps to make it easier to get tested and get tested for free. 

Next, we are preparing hospitals for what’s coming.  Those 40 [million] unvaccinated adults have a good chance of getting COVID-19, and some of you will get very sick.  That will mean hospitals are going to get extremely stressed — extremely stressed again, both in terms of equipment as well as personnel to care for those who get sick.

That’s why my administration has stockpiled and pre-positioned millions of gowns, gloves, masks, and ventilators.  We used to call it PPP [PPE].  We’re ready to send them immediately to any state that needs more.

In addition, I have directed the Pentagon to mobilize an additional 1,000 troops to be deployed to help staff local hospitals and expand capacity.  That’s 1,000 military doctors, nurses, and medics.  We’ve already started moving — military — excuse me, medical teams.  They’ve already landed in Wisconsin and Indiana this week.

And this is on top of 300 federal medical — medical personnel that are now on the ground, having deployed since we learned about Omicron. 

Look, while we know staffing is the biggest need for our hospitals, some may need more beds as well.  We’re prepared.  I’ve directed FEMA to activate the National Response Center and begin deploying teams now to provide additional hospital beds.  We’ll begin to construct emergency capacity near hospitals, in parking garages, and nearby buildings to be ready if needed.

And the fuderal [sic] — the federal government is paying for all of this — period — all of it. 

Further, FEMA will deploy hundreds of ambulances and EMS crews so that if one hospital fills up, we can transport patients to beds elsewhere. 

This week, we will send dozens of ambulances to New York and Maine, because of the — because the COVID is spreading very rapidly, to help transport patients. 

Our doctors, nurses, hospital staffs have gone above and beyond during this pandemic.  The strain and stress is real.  I really mean it.  It’s real.  And we’ll have their backs though.  We have to let them know we have their backs. 

Finally, we’re making sure that COVID-19 no longer closes businesses or schools.  Last week, the federal court reinstated my administration’s vaccination-or-test — the vaccination-or-test rule for businesses with more than 100 employees. 

The rule requires employers with 100 or more employees
to protect their workers who are on site and indoors with a requirement that they be vaccinated or tested each week or go home.

These rules are going to keep workers safe.  And keep workers safe will help keep businesses open.  If people are vaccinated or tested, they are much less likely to get sick and less likely to spread it to others.  Customers are more likely to come in and shop because they know it’s a safe environment.

I know vaccination requirements are unpopular for many.  They’re not even popular for those who are anxious to get them. 

But my administration has put them in place not to control your life, but to save your life and the lives of others.  Over 400,000 Americans died from COVID this calendar year — and almost all were unvaccinated, almost all were preventable.

The rule is legal and effective, and it’s going to save thousands of American lives. 

We must also keep our K-12 schools open.  Look, the science is clear and overwhelming.  We know how to keep our kids safe from COVID-19 in school.  K-through-12 schools should be open.  And that safety is increased if schools require all adults who work in the schools to get vaccinated and take the safety measures that CDC has recommended, including masking.

I got Congress to pass billions of dollars in school improvements, ventilation, and social distancing.  Schools should be safer than ever from COVID-19.

And just Friday, the CDC issued test-to-stay guidelines, so schools can stay open and kids can stay in class even if a classmate tests positive. 

COVID-19 is scary.  But the science is clear: Children are as safe as — are — as safe in school as they are anyplace, assuming the appropriate precautions have been taken, and they’ve already been funded.

Let me close with this: I know you’re tired — I really mean this — and I know you’re frustrated.  We all want this to be over.  But we’re still in it, and this is a critical moment.  But we also have more tools than we’ve ever had before.

We’re ready.  We’ll get through this.

As we head into the holidays, I want us to all keep the faith.

I want to sincerely thank you for your perseverance, your courage, your countless acts of kindness, love, and sacrifice during these last two years. 

Throughout our history, we’ve been tested as a people and as a nation.  Through war and turmoil, we had to ask whether we’d be safe, whether we’d be okay, whether we’d be — get back to who we are.

We’ve always endured because we remember there is no challenge too big for America — I mean this from the bottom of my heart — no challenge.

We’ve come through better and stronger because we stay together as the United States of America.

That’s what we have to keep doing today.  We can do this together, I guarantee you.

May God bless you all, and may God protect our troops.  And happy holidays.  God love you all.  Thank you.

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