President Biden will step up the pressure on Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency coronavirus relief aid, using a speech at the White House on Wednesday to deliver what an official described as an urgent and direct message that will warn that U.S. progress against Covid-19 would be at severe risk if Congress fails to act.
Mr. Biden will also spotlight a new one-stop-shopping coronavirus website, covid.gov, aimed at helping Americans navigate access to testing, treatment, vaccines and masks, and to assess the risk of Covid-19 in their neighborhoods, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the president’s remarks. The site went live Wednesday morning; Mr. Biden’s remarks were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.
The website, and Mr. Biden’s speech, are part of a broader effort to ease the nation out of pandemic crisis mode and usher in what experts are calling the “next normal” — a phase in which Americans will learn to live with the risk of Covid-19 and to adjust behavior like mask wearing based on whether cases and hospitalizations are rising or falling.
That strategy depends on the availability of vaccines and therapeutics, though, and the administration says it is out of money for both. The White House has been pleading with Republicans in Congress to approve $22.5 billion in emergency aid to purchase new vaccines and therapeutics, and to reimburse doctors who care for uninsured Covid-19 patients.
The federal government said recently that a fund established to reimburse doctors was no longer accepting those claims for testing and treatment “due to lack of sufficient funds.”
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers expressed optimism that a deal could be struck before Congress leaves next week for a two-week April recess, with meetings and private talks set to continue on Wednesday. But it remains unclear how the package will be paid for — a crucial Republican demand that has delayed passage.
“We’re looking at all the pots of money that hasn’t been spent,” said Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. “And we’re going to provide some flexibility between ourselves and the Democrats on those buckets, but we’re making progress and hopefully we’ll get there soon.”
Mr. Romney has been leading talks with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, who warned of dire consequences if a deal is not reached. “If Covid comes upon us again, another variant, and we are not prepared and it takes two, three months to get going and by then the new variant has its tentacles deep in our society, woe is us,” Mr. Schumer said.
While new coronavirus case reports have been falling in the United States, a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 has driven a surge in cases in Europe, and many experts expect that the United States may soon see the same. Should that occur, it will be the first major test of the country’s new strategy of living with the virus while limiting its impact.
Around the country, state and local governments have relaxed restrictions like mask and vaccine mandates. White House and federal health officials have been making the case for weeks that Americans now have the tools — testing infrastructure, masks and other mitigation strategies, and drugs and vaccines — to live with the threat of the virus.
On Tuesday, federal health officials cleared second booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for everyone 50 or older and for many people with certain immune deficienciesat least four months after their first booster. They described the move as an effort to bolster waning immunity against severe disease before another surge can take hold.
The White House said that following remarks on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden would receive a second booster himself.
In his State of the Union address, Mr. Biden announced a new “test to treat” initiative — a network of pharmacies and other sites where people can be tested for the coronavirus and then receive antiviral drugs if they test positive. More than 2,000 sites are participating, the White House said. The covid.gov website features a “test-to-treat” locator tool to help people find participating locations.
Under a banner saying “Find Covid-19 guidance for your community,” the website asks users to enter the name of the county in which they live. It then identifies whether the risk of Covid-19 in that county is low, medium or high, depending on factors including the number of hospitalizations and available hospital beds.