Coronavirus Update: Biden to step up effort to aid hospitals overwhelmed by omicron cases, and will procure 500 million more tests

President Joe Biden’s administration will announce later Thursday a plan to deploy military medics to six states to help hospitals deal with a surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the highly transmissible omicron variant, according to media reports.

As many as 1,000 people will be deployed to hospitals in Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island, the New York Times reported, citing White House officials.

The medics will help triage people arriving at emergency rooms to free up staff to care for other patients. Biden said in December he would use the military to help ease the stress on health care workers as omicron puts record numbers of Americans in hospitals.

There were 145,005 Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 82% from two weeks ago and the highest level since the start of the pandemic.

New cases are averaging 781,203 a day, up 159% from two weeks ago, and deaths, which lag cases and hospitalizations, are now climbing, up 51% from two weeks ago at 1,827 a day.

Case numbers are starting to fall in some areas that have been hit hard by omicron, and scientists say there are signs the wave may be nearing a peak. And the World Health Organization said this week that studies indicate that omicron is less lethal than other variants, although it is highly infectious and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines to cause breakthrough cases in people who are vaccinated and have even had a booster.

See: Scientists start to predict that omicron will peak in U.S. in coming weeks, but hospitalizations remain at record levels

Biden will also announce a plan to purchase another 500 million COVID tests, the White House said.

Other COVID-19 news to know

• One day after he was forced to apologize for attending a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of his Downing Street office and residence in May 2020, in contravention of government rules at the time, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to cancel planned visit to a coronavirus vaccination center after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus. The news came as opposition politicians and others called for Johnson to resign, as the Associated Press reported.

• Denmark will offer a fourth vaccine shot to at-risk groups and vulnerable groups and become the first European country to do so, ABC News reported. Israel has started a similar program. A WHO panel of experts said this week that the world cannot simply boost its way out of the coronavirus pandemic using existing vaccines, as they highlighted the need for new jabs that are better at keeping people from becoming infected in the first place.

Read: World can’t boost its way out of the pandemic using existing vaccines, WHO experts say

• Less than two weeks after the winter term started, French teachers are already exhausted by the pressures of surging COVID cases, the Associated Press reported. French teachers staged a nationwide strike Thursday organized by teacher’s unions to protest virus-linked class disruptions and ever-changing isolation rules. France is at the epicenter of Europe’s current fight against COVID-19, with new infections topping 360,000 a day in recent days.

• Vir Biotechnology VIR, -1.82% and GlaxoSmithKline GSK, +0.24% GSK, -0.07% have formally asked the Food and Drug Administration to update the authorization for their COVID-19 treatment to include intramuscular administration. The therapy, sotrovimab, is a monoclonal antibody used to treat some teens and adults who are at high risk for severe COVID-19. The therapy was originally authorized for single-dose intravenous infusion. 

• The Coachella music festival, which was canceled for the last two years because of the pandemic, will take place this year from April 15 to 17 and April 22 to 24, organizers confirmed. The festival will be headlined by Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Kanye West and ticket sales will begin on Friday.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 hiked up above 317.2 million and the death toll rose above 5.51 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 63.2 million cases and 844,562 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that about 208 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 62.7% of the total population.

Some 77 million have received a booster, equal to 37% of the fully vaccinated.

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