Live updates: The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and Supreme Court ruling –

An N95 mask dangles from the rear-view mirror of a car in North Tustin, California last week.
An N95 mask dangles from the rear-view mirror of a car in North Tustin, California last week. (Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register/Getty Images)

President Biden announced administration efforts to respond to the surging Covid-19 pandemic through additional testing, more medical support and increased supply of high-quality masks. 

He did so while also laying out a clear argument for getting vaccinated and boosted, telling those who have not done so to stop “standing in the way” as he renewed calls on media giants to combat the spread of misinformation.

Biden reiterated the importance of masking as he announced that new details on free high-quality masks such as KN95s and N95s will be coming next week.

“Next week, we’ll announce how we are making high-quality masks available to the American people for free. I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks. I get it, but they’re really important tool to stop the spread, especially the highly transmittable Omicron variant,” he said at the White House ahead of a virtual briefing from military medical teams on the ground.

On Wednesday, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance on mask usage, but the Biden administration is “strongly considering” making higher quality masks, like N95 and KN95 masks, more available to Americans.

Biden on Thursday called mask-wearing a “patriotic duty,” noting a statistic that approximately one-third of Americans do not wear a mask, making clear he understands that it is “not comfortable” and a “pain in the neck.” 

The President also announced a new purchase of 500 million additional Covid-19 tests in addition to the previously announced 500 million free, at-home rapid tests that will be rolled out via a website, amid ongoing demand for tests and continued shortages. 

He added that the administration continues to add federally run testing sites and touted new moves to make tests reimbursable to those with insurance.

Biden also outlined the federal surge response, including the deployment of military personnel to six hard-hit states to help deal with hospital staffing shortages. 

“Today, I’m announcing our next deployment of six additional federal medical teams — a total of more than 120 military medical personnel — to six hard-hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island,” he said. 

Since Thanksgiving, he noted, over 800 military and other federal personnel have been deployed across 24 states, tribes and territories, including over 350 military doctors, nurses and medics. More than 14,000 National Guard members are also activated in 49 states. All of those deployments, he noted, are fully paid for by the Covid relief package passed by Congress early last year.

He said he has also directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure there is enough hospital bed capacity in every state.

Biden underscored the importance of getting vaccinated to combat Covid-19, as his critics cite rising cases among people who are fully vaccinated.

“I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year. Omicron variant is causing millions of cases and record hospitalizations. I’ve been saying that as we remain in this pandemic, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And I mean by this right now, both vaccinated [and] unvaccinated people are testing positive, but what happens after that could not be more different,” he said.

He continued: “If vaccinated people test positive, they overwhelmingly have either no symptoms at all or they have mild symptoms. And if you’re unvaccinated, if they test positive, you’re 17 times more likely to get hospitalized,” adding that deaths are down “dramatically” compared to this time last year.

He later made a more forceful, targeted appeal to the millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, warning they are not just on the sidelines, but in the way. 

He made an appeal to social media companies and media outlets amid the ongoing spread of falsehoods about the vaccine and the virus more broadly. 

“Please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that’s on your shows. It has to stop,” he said.

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Live updates: The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and Supreme Court ruling –

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