President Joe Biden speaks about the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the State Dining Room of the White House December 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden speaks about the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the State Dining Room of the White House December 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Biden urged unvaccinated Americans and those without boosters to get their shots during a speech Tuesday. 
  • He reassured fully-vaccinated people that they are largely protected from the worst effects of the virus. 
  • The administration announced it will provide 500 million rapid tests and set up new vaccine and testing sites.

President Joe Biden sought to reassure fully-vaccinated Americans that spending time with family over the holidays is safe, but continued to strongly urge unvaccinated people to get their shots amid the draamtic surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant. 

"We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked," he said. "If you're fully vaccinated, and especially if you got your booster shot, you are highly protected. And if you're unvaccinated, you're at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized, and dying."

Biden added that fully vaccinated people should "feel comfortable" celebrating the holidays as they planned to, but should continue to wear masks in many indoor settings.

"I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends," he said.
"The answer is yes you can, if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated, particularly if you've gotten your booster shot."

"Vaccinated people who get COVID may get ill, but they're protected from severe illness and death," he said. 

Biden said there are "three big differences" between March 2020 and now: that more than 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, that the US is "ready" for a surge in hospitalizations among the unvaccinated, and that we now know more about how to mitigate the spread of the virus in places like schools. 

The president warned that the massive surge in cases driven largely by the new variant is overwhelming hospitals and threatening care for non-COVID patients, as well. 

"Those who are not vaccinated are causing hospitals to become overrun again," he said. "Every COVID-19 hospitalization means someone with a heart attack, cancer, or some other serious illness may not get that bed and care they need in the hospital." 

He added, "The strain and stress is real. I mean it, it's real."

But Biden insisted that K-12 schools and businesses would stay open, in part with the help of vaccine mandates and regular testing. 

"COVID-19 is scary but the science is clear: kids are as safe in schools as they are anywhere," he said. 

The White House announced on Tuesday that it would pump significantly more resources into coronavirus testing, medical equipment, and medical personnel in the coming weeks. Biden said the federal government will provide 500 million rapid, at-home COVID-19 test kits that Americans can order for free online beginning in January. 

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