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Update: Amid mounting criticism, U.S. strengthens COVID-19 battle with better masks, free tests


The test-and-mask moves show that the Biden administration "is trying to step up its coronavirus response as the highly infectious Omicron variant drives a spike in cases across the nation," says The New York Times.

The Joe Biden administration will make 400 million N95 masks available for free at thousands of locations across the country, a White House official said on Wednesday, as health experts stress the importance of high-quality face coverings to protect against the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The plan consists of working with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute the nonsurgical masks, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile. The administration will begin shipments this week and hopes to have the program fully operational by early February.

Tom Inglesby, the administration's COVID-19 testing coordinator, said in an interview that "we know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks," adding that the administration was "confident that people who want to access them will be able to access them."

The screenshot taken from the website of covidtests.gov on Jan. 19, 2022 shows the pictures and description of the U.S. government

HOME TESTS

The Biden administration's new website allowing people to order up to four free at-home coronavirus tests quietly went live on Tuesday, a day in advance of its formal launch, and demand already appeared to be significant.

A combined total of more than 1 million visitors were on the home page and the ordering page of covidtests.gov at one point Tuesday evening, more than 40 times as many as were on the government site with the next highest traffic, the U.S. Postal Service's package-tracking page, according to official data.

The test-and-mask moves show that the Biden administration "is trying to step up its coronavirus response as the highly infectious Omicron variant drives a spike in cases across the nation," reported The New York Times, noting that the administration at first resisted the idea of sending tests to Americans' homes.

Airplanes are seen parked at the apron of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the United States, Jan. 3, 2022. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

STRICTER TRAVEL ADVISORY

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moved a whopping 22 destinations into its highest-risk travel category for COVID-19. Adding to the impact, the CDC also moved 22 additional destinations to its Level 3 category, which is considered "high" risk for COVID-19.

By contrast, it moved only two nations to Level 4, or "very high" risk, last week. This week, among the nations moved to Level 4 were Argentina and Australia, which have maintained some of the strictest border controls during most of the pandemic. Level 2 and 1 respectively mean "COVID-19 Moderate" and "COVID-19 Low."

The CDC advises travelers to avoid travel to Level 4 destinations, where more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents have been registered in the past 28 days. In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until fully vaccinated.

Families visit the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the United States, Jan. 17, 2022. (Photo by Ting Shen/Xinhua)

PANDEMIC SURGE

The United States added over 1 million COVID-19 cases again on Tuesday, after setting a global record of over 1.36 million daily cases earlier this month, according to latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

A total of 1,060,747 new cases and 1,896 new deaths were reported across the country on Tuesday.

The country recorded as high as over 5.4 million COVID-19 cases in the week from Jan. 10 to 16, a record high weekly case count since the onset of the pandemic in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University data.  

Published : January 20, 2022

By : Xinhua