White House signals next era in COVID with sweeping new strategy

(WASHINGTON) — The White House on Wednesday released a sweeping new 96-page plan on COVID, marking a new era in the pandemic in which the virus is still circulating but can hopefully be managed so that Americans can return to daily life without disruption.

The strategy, that President Joe Biden previewed Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, calls for making available more free rapid tests online starting next week, as well as setting up pharmacy clinics later this month that will hand out free antiviral pills to people who test positive.

The plan also promises the ability to mass produce 1 billion doses of vaccine each year so that a new formula can be delivered within 100 days in the event of an aggressive new variant. The administration also vows to continue its efforts to provide vaccinations globally to help prevent future mutations.

“We are not going to just ‘live with COVID,"” states the new strategy called the “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.”

“Because of our work, we are no longer going to let COVID-19 dictate how we live,” it adds.

The White House notes in its plan that these efforts will require more money, in addition to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package Biden pushed through last year. That money has mostly either been spent or obligated through contracts. Officials have not said yet how much would be needed.

“Without these investments, many of the activities described below cannot be initiated or sustained,” the White House wrote.

ABC News last week first reported efforts by the White House to revise its strategy to signal a new era in the pandemic. The effort has involved private meeting with business leaders, governors and the nation’s top pandemic experts to consider the various paths the virus could take in the coming months.

The updated strategy comes after significant voter pressure to reopen fully the country and curb disruptions. Democratic strategists have warned candidates they would fare better focusing on other issues like controlling inflation.

But federal health officials defend the shift as not merely political. Case numbers and hospitalization levels have plummeted in recent weeks, easing pressure on health care workers.

Officials also note that the vaccine held up throughout the omicron wave. The vast majority of people in hospitals have been unvaccinated, while vaccinated people mostly experienced mild symptoms that did not require medical help.

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