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Washington Watch: ‘This is a critical moment,’ Biden says, while rolling out free, at-home COVID tests as omicron spreads

President Joe Biden on Tuesday offered warnings but also projected confidence, as his administration rolled out new steps in the fight against COVID-19 — including plans to buy a half-billion rapid tests and ship them free to Americans.

“This is a critical moment. We also have more tools than we’ve ever had before. We’re ready. We’ll get through this,” Biden said, as he gave a speech at the White House.

Initial deliveries of the 500 million rapid, at-home tests are slated to begin in January, according to a White House statement. The U.S. has an estimated population of 332 million. The Biden administration plans to set up a website where Americans can get the tests sent to their homes for free.

When asked after his speech if his administration had failed in not having more tests already available, Biden told reporters it wasn’t a failure, adding that the new omicron variant had spread more rapidly than expected.

The administration’s latest steps against COVID also include preparations to deploy an additional 1,000 members of the military with medical skills to struggling hospitals, as well as sending federal emergency response teams to Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and Vermont.

In addition, the administration is putting up new federal testing sites around the country and continuing to use the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to manufacture COVID tests.

“We’ve arranged for it to be easier for you to find a free COVID testing site near you on Google,” Biden said, saying people should just enter “COVID test near me” into Google’s GOOG, +1.28% GOOGL, +1.32% search engine.

Read more: Biden bolsters COVID-19 effort as highly contagious omicron variant spreads fast and WHO urges people to cancel Christmas parties

And see: Biden pledges to deliver 500 million COVID-19 rapid tests to Americans

The Biden administration is shifting after officials earlier this month resisted calls to match other developed nations and step up the number of tests provided at no cost. White House press secretary Jen Psaki had expressed skepticism during a press briefing on Dec. 6.

“Should we just send one to every American?” she told reporters at that briefing two weeks ago. “How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?”

Psaki expressed regret about those remarks on Tuesday, telling reporters that there’s “not a day that goes by that I don’t leave this podium and wish I would have said something with greater context or more precision.”

Biden on Tuesday continued to urge vaccinated Americans to get booster shots — and for unvaccinated Americans to get their first COVID jab. About 242 million U.S. residents, or 73% of the population, have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker.

“How concerned should you be about omicron, which is now the dominant variant in this country?” Biden said. “The answer is straightforward. If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned. You’re at a high risk of getting sick.”

On the topic of boosters, the president made a reference to his predecessor.

“Just the other day, former President Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot. It may be one of the few things he and I agree on,” Biden said.

U.S. stocks  SPX, +1.78% DJIA, +1.60% were gaining Tuesday after a three-session losing streak.

Now read: Biden says stocks ‘went way down’ as Goldman cut U.S. growth forecast after setback for Build Back Better Act

MarketWatch’s Robert Schroeder contributed to this report.

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