President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that his administration is deploying six teams of military medical personnel to hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico to help alleviate staffing strains as the nation combats the new wave of infections and hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant.
The deployments, which total more than 120 personnel, follow the U.S. sending over 800 military and other emergency personnel to various states since late November and the activation of about 14,000 National Guard members in 49 states to assist in the nation's COVID-19 response, according to the president.
Beyond military personnel, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide additional hospital beds as well as ambulances and EMS support teams. The Biden administration has also more than tripled the U.S. national stockpile's supply of high-quality N95 masks to ensure that there is ample supply for healthcare workers. Biden also plans to make those makes available for free to Americans who cannot afford them, with the White House issuing more information on that plan next week.
Additionally, Biden said the White House plans to buy an additional 500 million COVID at-home testing kits, adding to the 500 million it was already purchasing, to distribute to Americans for free.
More than 152,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized due to severe COVID infection as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That total was up 18% over the previous week. Moreover, an average of more than 1,000 hospitals nationwide are reporting critical staffing shortages, according to HHS data.
Biden pointed to the unvaccinated as the reason behind the increasing hospitalization rates, as those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to develop severe disease.
"Unfortunately, while our military is stepping up, as they always do, there are others sitting on the sidelines and, worse, standing in the way," Biden said in remarks Thursday. "If you've haven't gotten vaccinated, do it. Personal choice impacts us all--our hospitals, our country."
Biden's remarks before the U.S. Supreme Count blocked his administration's vaccine-or-test mandate for large private-sector companies on Thursday. However, the Court did allow a vaccine mandate to remain for healthcare facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid.
The rulings came just three days after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) mandate requiring workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or submit weekly negative COVID tests before entering a workplace took effect.
"Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly," the Court wrote in its opinion.
"As a result of the Court's decision, it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated," Biden said in a statement following the Court's decision."
"The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans' health and economy," Biden added. "I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up - including one third of Fortune 100 companies - and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities."