White House Announces New COVID Strategies As Winter and Omicron Approach

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden delivers remarks with children who were just vaccinated at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

With several confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant now confirmed in the U.S., the White House has announced new strategies to help prevent more illnesses and deaths from the virus.

The strategies, for now, are generally aimed at getting more people tested and vaccinated during the winter, when COVID cases can increase because people are indoors and more exposed to each other. 

Here’s a look at what the actions President Biden announced on December 2 include.

More Booster Guidance and Education

Updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say all adults 18 and older should get boosters following their initial vaccine regimen.

A public education campaign from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on boosters will place a focus on seniors. In tandem, the White House will collaborate with the AARP on booster education.

Increased Vaccine Accessibility 

Community health centers will host family vaccination days to encourage eligible children (age 5+) to get vaccinated and for adults to get their booster shots. The White House says Medicaid will be required to pay healthcare providers to talk to parents about getting their children vaccinated.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will launch family vaccination mobile clinics.

School Safety Improvements

Biden announced a review of school COVID-19 prevention policies to avoid closures of entire classrooms or schools when there is a positive case.

During the Dec. 2 briefing on the new plan, the new "Safe School Checklist" was announced, detailing how schools can follow a strategic game plan for immediate staff and student vaccination on as many as possible. Some aspects include school-located vaccination clinics, hosting community-based and family vaccination clinics and events, implementing vaccination requirements for school staff, and getting eligible school staff booster shots.

Expanded Testing

Biden announced a pledge to provide free at-home testing for Americans, including insurance reimbursement for at-home tests and distribution of free test kits through community clinics.

Testing will be bolstered for travel, too. On December 6, the U.S. strengthened pre-departure testing protocols by requiring all inbound international travelers to test within one day of departure globally, up from the previously-established three days for vaccinated travelers. This rule applies regardless of nationality or vaccination status.

The mask requirement on airplanes is now extended to March 18, 2022.

New Variant Doesn’t Mean New Protocols—Yet 

During a White House press conference last week, Anthony Fauci, MD, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and senior advisor to President Biden on the coronavirus response, said that for now, the emergence of the variant does not require individuals to take any steps to protect themselves beyond what has already been recommended. 

“If you look at the things we have been recommending [including vaccination and testing] they’re just the same, and we want to keep doing that and make sure we pay close attention to that,” Fauci said.

That could change. Fauci also said that it will take up to three weeks to expose the variant to vaccines and treatments in current use in order to know how well the variant responds. 

“We'll know a lot about transmissibility; about whether or not it essentially eludes some of the protection from things like monoclonal antibodies; whether or not the disease itself, in general, is going to be severe; and what is the difference in an individual who's been vaccinated versus unvaccinated, boosted versus not boosted,” he said. “We're going to get that information.”

The White House is taking steps to fund updated vaccines in the event the current versions don’t offer enough protection against Omicron. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.