The White House on Wednesday unveiled a plan to move the nation to a new stage of the pandemic where Covid-19 “does not disrupt our daily lives,” while also preparing the nation for any new variants that may emerge.
The National Covid-19 Preparedness Plan, which will require additional funding from Congress, is focused on spending on treatments for Covid-19, preparing for new variants, keeping schools and businesses open and continuing the effort to vaccinate the nation and the world.
“Vaccines, treatments, tests, masks – these tools are how we continue to protect people and enable us to move forward safely and get back to our more normal routines. Going out to eat at a restaurant, taking that trip that’s been long delayed, arranging a play date for your kids, attending a sports game, a movie or a concert again,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters at a White House briefing.
A major new part of the plan includes a new “Test to Treat” initiative that President Joe Biden announced during his State of the Union address Tuesday night. He said Americans would be able to get tested for Covid-19 at a pharmacy and receive free antiviral pills “on the spot” if they test positive.
Zients said hundreds of these “One-Stop Test to Treat” locations will open across the country this month. These sites will be at pharmacy-based clinics, community health centers, long-term care facilities and US Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country.
Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid, has been shown to significantly reduce hospitalizations and severe illness and was authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration last year. Upon its authorization, Biden announced a purchase of 10 million courses. The President has since said the federal government will double its order from 10 million to 20 million treatment courses.
Zients said Americans who have already received free at-home Covid-19 tests that they ordered through COVIDtests.gov will be able to place a second order starting next week. He said the administration will continue to make hundreds of millions of high-quality masks available to Americans at pharmacies, grocery stores and community health centers across the country.
The administration will launch a website later this month, Zients said, to help Americans locate vaccines and masks at convenient locations.
“This plan lays out the roadmap to help us fight Covid-19 in the future as we move America from crisis to a time when Covid-19 does not disrupt our daily lives and is something we prevent, protect against and treat,” a summary of the plan shared with CNN reads.
“We look to a future when Americans no longer fear lockdowns, shutdowns, and our kids not going to school. It’s a future when the country relies on the powerful layers of protection we have built and invests in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters that the administration has distributed more than 270 million N95 masks to local pharmacies and community health centers and that 70 million households have received rapid at-home Covid-19 tests.
He said a key part of the plan is to support Americans struggling with long-term impacts of Covid, including long Covid and mental health issues. The President on Tuesday said he was directing the federal government to accelerate its efforts to detect, prevent and treat long Covid.
The plan includes an effort to vaccinate children under 5 years of age if the US Food and Drug Administration issues its authorization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for that group. The authorization for vaccines for younger children has been delayed as the FDA seeks additional data.
Efforts to prepare for new variants include improving data collection capabilities and supporting expedited review of variant-specific vaccines and treatments. It also includes adding at-home tests, antiviral pills and masks to the strategic national stockpile.
Keeping schools and businesses open is a key part of the administration’s plan to keep the virus from disrupting normal life. The plan includes working with Congress to secure funding for additional tests and supplies in order to stay open, including tools to improve ventilation and air filtration. The White House will also work to get Congress to approve providing sick leave to workers who miss work because of Covid-19 or because they are caring for a loved one with the virus.
Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that most people in the United States live in areas where those who are healthy do not need to wear masks indoors. It was a sweeping change from what earlier Covid-19 metrics recommended.
This story has been updated with additional information.