President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday that he made “a bit of progress” on plans to mass-distribute COVID-19 rapid tests as the nation records a record-high rate of new cases amid a shortage of tests.
Biden made the vaguely reassuring remark as he took his new puppy Commander to the beach near his Delaware vacation home.
The president said he was on the phone most of the day to discuss a plan to make 500 million at-home rapid tests available to Americans via direct order to address the spike in infections caused by the Omicron variant.
Key details of the program, which was unveiled last week, remain unknown. For example, it is unclear how many tests each household will be allowed to request. Nor is it known how quickly they will be mailed or when a website will be launched for people to order tests.
Meanwhile, retailers have sold out of test kits and massive lines have formed at official test sites as infection rates in New York City and DC hit new peaks. More than one in 75 DC residents tested positive for the virus over the four-day Christmas weekend.
On Monday, the US recorded more than 441,000 new infections, according to CDC data — blowing away the previous record of 294,000 case on Jan. 8, 2021 — despite the overwhelming majority of Americans being vaccinated.
The wave of cases has sent hospitalization rates up steeply in New York City, although preliminary data from other countries indicates that Omicron symptoms may be less severe.
Biden has repeatedly expressed regret about not acting more quickly to make free tests more widely available. He said Monday morning that he’d have “gone harder, quicker” to distribute COVID-19 tests if he’d known the Omicron variant was going to cause a surge of new infections.
A few moments later, the president also denied that his administration in October rejected a proposal to mass-distribute rapid tests ahead of a possible winter surge in cases.
“We didn’t reject it,” Biden claimed in response to a question from The Post on the White House lawn.
Vanity Fair reported Thursday that experts from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative and other groups pitched a 10-page plan to White House officials on Oct. 22 that called for the production of 732 million tests per month for a “Testing Surge To Prevent [a] Holiday COVID surge.” The plan even called for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”
A White House spokesman argued late Monday that Biden told the truth when he denied that his team rejected the plan, which called for massive test kit distribution ahead of the holidays, because its ideas are now being acted upon.
“The characterization of ‘rejection’ is not an accurate reflection of a productive meeting, and in fact, we are implementing many measures that were discussed as capacity now allows us to do,” the spokesman said. “Our work is made better by collaborating with outside partners and we will continue to work with them to expand testing capacity.”
Biden, whose plans for a post-Christmas vacation to Puerto Rico were scrapped due to the fast-spreading variant, took his new German shepherd for a run along the shore near the end of a chilly and overcast Tuesday during which he made no other public appearances.