WASHINGTON – A recent update to the National HIV Strategy by the Biden administration is getting good reviews from advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS, who are praising the new blueprint for recognizing challenges in the epidemic and racism as a public health issue.
Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV & Hepatitis Policy Institute and member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, assessed the update as “very, very positive,” saying it built on components of a previous iteration of the strategy issued during the Trump administration and made new ones.
“I think the community is extremely pleased,” Schmid said. “There’s a new component…racism is a public health issue. So, all these positive — the disparities, which is just so big. Anytime you’re addressing HIV, you’re always addressing disparities.”
Schmid also said the updated blueprint — which articulates a plan from 2022 through 2025 and was issued last week to coincide with the first World AIDS Day during the Biden administration — makes outreach to the private sector.
“I think that’s good because it’s the people who influence society like technology companies, people who have high gay and bisexual employees, like [the] travel industry, get them all involved,” Schmid said. “So, and that, I think should help with the stigma.”
Schmid also hailed the strategy for its promotion of the Affordable Care Act as a tool to fight HIV/AIDS, which he said was absent in the iteration of the report under former President Trump.
The president in remarks on World AIDS Day last week before advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the East Room the White House, said the uptrend strategy is “a roadmap for how we’re going to put our foot on the gas and accelerate our efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by the year 2030.”
“That’s the goal,” Biden added. “And it centers on the kind of innovative, community solutions — community-driven solutions that we know will work.”
Consistent with his administration’s stated commitment to racial equity and recognizing disparities among diverse groups, including LGBTQ people, Biden said the plan ensures “the latest advances in HIV prevention, diagnosis and treatment are available to everyone, regardless of their age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or other factors.”
“Critically, this strategy takes on racial and gender disparities in our health system that for much too long have affected HIV outcomes in our country — to ensure that our national response is a truly equitable response,” Biden said.
The updated blueprint is the fourth iteration of the National HIV Strategy, which was first issued during the Obama administration, then updated during the Obama years and again during the Trump administration before the Biden administration unveiled the version last week.
The 93-page strategy makes recognition of racism as a public health issue a key component of the plan to fight HIV/AIDS, calling it a “serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans.”
“Racism is not only the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but also the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where they play, and where they gather as a community,” the strategy says. “Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.”
Data shows racial disparities remain a significant obstacle in thwarting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, new HIV infections in the United States declined by 8 percent between 2015 and 2019, with much of the progress due to larger declines among young gay and bisexual men in recent years.
But although HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men have dropped 33 percent overall, with declines in young men among all races, the CDC finds “African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos continue to be severely and disproportionately affected.”
A senior Biden administration official, speaking last week on background in a conference call with reporters to promote the HIV strategy, said in response to a question from the Washington Blade the recognition of racism “as a serious public health threat” was a key difference from previous iterations of the blueprint.
“There are several updates in this,” the official said. “And some of those new features or new areas of focus have come about from both community input as well as sitting down with our federal partners and thinking about also the priorities of this administration, where there is a focus on equity, there is a focus on addressing stigma and discrimination and ensuring that also marginalized populations have access to healthcare, and that we are also working to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience are part of our response.”
Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the recognition of social and racial disparities is a key component of the updated strategy.
“One area in which the updated strategy stakes out new and stronger ground is in its explicit focus on the social/structural determinants of health,” Kates said. “The strategy doesn’t just mention them but seeks to address them through a variety of objectives. This is a departure and an important one.”
Kates, however, cautioned: “Of course, the devil will be in the details and there will always be a tension between what the federal government itself can do and the power that state and local jurisdictions actually have.”
One aspect of note during Biden’s remarks on World AIDS Day was his articulation of 2030 as the target date to beat HIV, with the goal of reducing new infection rates by 90 percent in that year. That 2030 goal was established by health officials during the Trump administration, but Biden had campaigned on 2025 — much to the skepticism of some observers.
The Department of Health & Human Services, in response an inquiry from the Blade on whether a decision was made to forgo 2025 and stick with 2030 as the target date, deferred comment to the White House, which didn’t immediately respond.
Schmid, who was among those during the election who expressed skepticism of the 2025 target date, said he spoke to the White House after an initial Blade report on the changed target date and was told the administration determined 2025 was “not feasible.”
“That was a campaign statement,” Schmid said. “I said then that it was not realistic, and I think others agreed with me particularly because of COVID, and we were during the campaign, but he said it and sometimes people say things during the campaign that they might not always live up to because it was unrealistic.”
Schmid, however, downplayed the importance of Biden articulating a different target date to beat HIV/AIDS compared to the one he promised during the presidential campaign, saying the initial date had demonstrated his “strong commitment” on the issue.
Now that the Biden administration has issued the new strategy, the work turns toward implementation, which would mean acting on the blueprint in conjunction with the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative already underway.
Schmid said the next step in the process is making sure funding is robust, HIV testing continues despite the coronavirus pandemic — and working to make PrEP more accessible.
Key to the effort, Schmid said, would be new legislation introduced before Congress to set up a national PrEP program, one introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), another by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and another by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.). Those bills, Schmid said, would ensure the uninsured have access to PrEP and health plans cover them without cost.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on that,” Schmid said. “It would be great to get the administration’s support for these as well, and money in the budget to implement these national PrEP programs.”
Jay Gilliam appointed to lead USAID LGBTQ initiatives
Former HRC staffer worked for agency during Obama administration
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.”
Great to meet Jay Gilliam, @USAID’s new Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator. 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. We’re thrilled to have his expertise in this role. pic.twitter.com/cbT7bdGr3B
— Samantha Power (@PowerUSAID) December 6, 2021
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.
Biden excoriates misinformation sources urges Americans get vaccinated
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.
A first for LGBTQ+ media, a permanent seat in White House briefing room
The White House Correspondents Association made the announcement Friday
WASHINGTON – The Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest LGBTQ newspaper, has secured an officially designated seat in the White House James S. Brady briefing room, marking the first time an LGBTQ publication has been afforded the honor.
The White House Correspondents Association, which is responsible for the seating assignment in the briefing room, made the announcement Friday as part of the updated seating chart, which will take effect on Jan. 3.
Chris Johnson, White House reporter for the Blade, will be responsible for filling the seat for the LGBTQ news outlet.
According to the WHCA, the seating assignment represents 65 different news organizations and entities and of those outlets, a total of 14, or 22 percent, are receiving their first-ever assignment.
Steven Portnoy, WHCA president and White House reporter for C-SPAN Radio, said in a memo changes were made “to enhance diversity in the briefing room,” including seat designations for “organizations that target Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ audience” as well as publications “across the ideological spectrum.”
The Blade is set to share a seat with the Boston Globe. The two publications have made an arrangement to rotate a presence in the seat on a weekly basis. The seat is in the seventh group and next to a seat shared with the Daily Caller, a conservative publication, and EWTN, a social conservative news outlet billing itself as a global network for Catholic-themed programming.
The seating assignment marks the latest development in the Blade’s reporting on the White House and integration in the White House press corps.
“Thank you to the Correspondents Association for this designation,” said Blade editor Kevin Naff. “This was decades in the making and a credit to the hard work of Chris Johnson and Lou Chibbaro Jr. before him. This will enable us to devote more focus to national political news impacting the LGBTQ community.”
In 2013, the Blade earned a spot in the White House in-town pool rotation, a system giving reporters the responsibility of shadowing the president of the United States and reporting back on his movements and statements in the form of pool reports for the entire White House press corps.
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