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Biden acknowledges shortages of COVID-19 tests, pledges to do more

US President Joe Biden holds a virtual meeting with the National Governors Association to discuss his administration's response to the Omicron variant, December 27, 2021.

President Joe Biden has acknowledged the shortage of coronavirus tests in the United States as the Omicron variant is spurring a record surge of new infections, overwhelming hospitals and testing facilities during the holiday season.

In a COVID-19 response team call with state governors on Monday, Biden pledged to do more to make more at-home COVID-19 testing available to Americans who request it.

"Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do," Biden told the governors.

The president also gave an account of where the United States currently stands in terms of COVID-19 vaccines and the Omicron variant.

"We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November, and almost 200 million in December," Biden said. "But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough. If we had known, we'd have gone harder and quicker if we could have."

Biden said his administration was planning to implement a series of steps to mitigate the situation, including using the Defense Production Act to boost at-home test manufacturing.

He also pointed out his previous actions aimed at increasing testing, including setting up new federal testing sites and purchasing 500 million at-home rapid coronavirus tests to be delivered to Americans who want them starting next month.

"We quadrupled the number of pharmacies offering free tests, and there are now more than 20,000 places where you can get tested for free," he said.

Holiday travel coupled with the rapid spread of Omicron has created high demands for tests and empty shelves at stores that sell at-home test kits.

Testing shortages are not a new problem in the US. There were reports of widespread shortages during the surge of the delta variant as well.

Federal and state officials are bracing for a new wave of infections following the Christmas holiday, with hospitalizations rising and New Year celebrations yet to come.

In some areas of the United States, daily COVID-19 cases have already surged to levels higher than the pandemic peak of early 2021.

Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico are among the areas that have reported higher caseloads in the past week than in any other seven-day period since the start of the pandemic.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant accounts for 73 percent of new cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week.

The surge snarled air travel over the Christmas weekend, with thousands of flights canceled as a growing number of flight crews called in sick with the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, advised Americans to avoid large gatherings during the upcoming New Year holiday.

"When you are talking about a New Year's Eve party where you have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of the vaccination, I would recommend strongly: Stay away from that this year," said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Only 62 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and the nation’s medical infrastructure is severely strained two years into the pandemic. Hospitals in some areas are facing staff and supply shortages.

The United States is now averaging about 200,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, and an average of 1,408 Americans lost their lives to the virus during the week ending Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins. That's a 17 percent increase from the week before.

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