The White House plans to mobilize 1,000 more service members to help support medical centers around the country early next year as part of a broader plan to battle the recent surge of coronavirus cases in America.
The moves, to be formally unveiled by President Joe Biden in a speech this afternoon, are in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.
White House officials have said in recent days they are planning a series of actions designed to increase vaccinations and slow the advance of the virus, but won’t seek any new lockdown or restriction measures. However, numerous local communities have already begun reinstating limits on school attendance, mass gatherings and other group events.
White House officials ahead of Tuesday’s announcement said that the additional troops will deploy to “COVID-burdened hospitals” and will include “military doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is coordinating the moves with other federal agencies to place personnel in areas of greatest need.
Biden will also announce plans to deploy federal medical personnel, expected to include some Department of Veterans Affairs staff, to additional locations.
Six emergency response teams with more than 100 clinical personnel are already headed to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont — some of the states hardest hit by the new variant.
Another 300 federal medical personnel have been deployed to other locations in recent weeks.
Smaller teams of military medical personnel — both National Guard and active-duty — have been activated in recent months to help ease the pressure on the national health care system. But the new deployment plan represents a significant escalation of those efforts reminiscent of the height of the pandemic in America one year ago.
Biden will also announce efforts to expand hospital capacity in hard-hit areas and plans to rush ventilators and protective equipment to regions in need.
The White House is also planning the purchase of 500 million COVID testing kits for free distribution to Americans starting next month. Biden is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate production of additional tests in coming months, to help individuals better track if they have been exposed to the virus.
In a White House briefing on Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki said that the country “is not at the same place we were at … at the beginning of the pandemic” and that the new steps are designed to prevent the same kind of pressure and panic seen in many communities last year.
“This is not a speech about locking the country down,” she said. “This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing, and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals.”
About 73 percent of American adults have been vaccinated against the virus, according to the White House.
About 50 million Americans have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Federal officials last week marked the 800,000th death in the last 22 months connected to coronavirus complications.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.