White House rolls out next COVID-19 plan: 8 details

The White House released a COVID-19 preparedness plan March 2 centered on living alongside the virus while continuing to combat it.

The debut of the 96-page plan coincides with falling COVID-19 cases in the U.S., which President Joe Biden mentioned during his State of the Union address to Congress on March 1. 

"We've reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19 where severe cases are down to a level not seen since July of last year," the president said. The plan is the product of nearly two months of work by the White House's coronavirus response team and consultations with dozens of external experts, public health officials and governors, CNN reports. 

The plan is built around four goals: (1) protect against and treat COVID-19, (2) prepare for new variants, (3) prevent economic and educational shutdowns and (4) vaccinate the world. 

Eight notes on the plan's details: 

1. "Test to treat." The administration will launch a nationwide "test-to-treat" initiative to minimize the time between a positive test result and treatment. Pharmacy-based clinics will be operationalized to serve as "one-stop" test-to-treat locations, in which Americans who receive a positive COVID-19 test result are rapidly seen by a provider and receive antiviral therapy, all in one visit. The plan notes that hundreds of one-stop sites will be made available nationwide in March.

2. Improved COVID-19 tracking. The administration is seeking additional funding from Congress to improve data infrastructure at the federal, state and local level to be better prepared to rapidly respond to emerging threats and new COVID-19 variants. The amount of funding was not specified in the plan. "The administration will continue to prioritize modernizing our state and local public health data systems to move from siloed and outdated public health data systems to connected, resilient, adaptable, and sustainable 'response-ready' systems," the plan states. 

3. Universal vaccine. The administration plans to accelerate research and development toward a single COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the virus and all of its new variants, which will require additional funding from Congress.

4. Vaccines for young children. Once COVID-19 vaccines are authorized by the FDA and recommended by the CDC for America's youngest children, the administration says it will make them available "at thousands of pediatric and primary care sites across the country," as well as children's hospitals and health systems. 

5. Prioritization of immunocompromised Americans. The plan acknowledges the challenges immunocompromised Americans face in navigating COVID-19 risks. The administration notes that they will be prioritized for access to antiviral treatments, and the CDC will prioritize communication with individuals who are moderately or severely immunocompromised to ensure they understand how and when their vaccine protection may be waning over time. "If an additional shot is needed, the administration will conduct outreach so people who are immunocompromised understand how to stay protected against COVID-19 and ensure that they can receive additional shots at a convenient time," the plan notes. 

6. Hospital capacity. The administration has worked with FEMA to mobilize planning teams that will work with every state and territory to assess hospital needs ahead of surges and begin expanding hospital bed capacity. Additionally, the administration notes it has strengthened its medical response corps for non-military medical personnel to support communities that need assistance.

7. Long COVID-19 research. The administration aims to pioneer a national research agenda to advance scientific understanding of long COVID-19, in which several governmental agencies (including HHS, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department) will create a comprehensive plan to foster research and data-sharing across the government and in collaboration with academic and industry partners.

8. Free masks. Pointing to its January 2022 move in which President Biden deployed "hundreds of millions of high-quality masks to the American public for free," the preparedness plan notes that the administration will continue to distribute more high-quality masks for adults and children, although the quantity or timeline was not made clear. 

The White House is balancing confidence and lingering caution in its COVID-19 planning, pointing to a path toward normalcy while also accounting for the possibility of new variants and the likelihood of future outbreaks among the unvaccinated. 

Sources familiar with the latest preparedness plan told Politico that President Biden is determined to avoid a repeat of July 2021, when he declared "independence from the virus." The U.S. was hit with the delta variant surge weeks later. 

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