The Biden administration plans to distribute millions of free Covid-19 tests to schools around the US in a further effort to keep classrooms open in the face of the latest wave of coronavirus infections led by the Omicron variant.
The federal government plans to send 5m free rapid tests and provide a further 5m lab-based tests to schools each month, Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus task force co-ordinator, said on Tuesday.
The Biden administration had previously earmarked $10bn of funding for testing in schools as part of the $130bn Covid-19 rescue plan that was signed into law last year. The tests for schools will be in addition to the 500m rapid at-home tests the federal government plans to begin sending to US residents in coming weeks, although concerns have been raised about potential shortages.
Over the past week, the US has averaged 751,000 new Covid-19 infections a day, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease and Prevention, said during Tuesday’s briefing. That is a record level and represented a 47 per cent increase over the previous week.
Earlier this week, the number of US residents in hospitals with Covid-19 hit a record of more than 142,000, topping the previous peak from a year ago during the worst of that winter’s wave of infections.
Walensky said an average of about 19,800 patients were being admitted to hospital each day over the past week, according to the latest data. However, she said a recent pre-print study from southern California showed that Omicron infections were associated with a 53 per cent reduction in adjusted risk of symptomatic hospitalisation than the Delta variant, which led the country’s summer wave of cases.
Patients in hospital who had tested positive for Omicron were there for an average of 1.5 days compared to five days for Delta patients, Walensky said of the study’s findings, and that Omicron patients were typically expected to be discharged in three days or less.
The daily death rate, of more than 1,600 a day over the past week, is up 40 per cent from a week ago, but is still about half of its pandemic peak in mid-January last year. Walensky said, though, she believed “lagging deaths” were a result of the more severe Delta variant, again pointing to the generally reduced risks associated with Omicron.