As cold weather and the holiday season sets in, the conditions for an illness outbreak are ideal. COVID is still a concern, but it is now joined by the threat of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Once deemed a problem primarily among infants and young children, RSV is surging in adults and capping off a trifecta of illnesses.
The White House is taking these concerns seriously. Thursday, December 15, the Biden administration announced a multiphase plan to control these conditions over the winter months.
Free home COVID tests are available again. American households can request four tests per address at https://www.covid.gov/tests. The government will work with communities to open mobile or pop-up COVID testing sites, dispensing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns, and gloves.
Long-term healthcare facilities and nursing homes will be provided additional support to protect the patients most vulnerable to this triple threat of illnesses. These facilities will also receive a “winter playbook” detailing necessary precautions to mitigate risk. These steps include vaccinations, flu and COVID testing, and how to improve indoor air quality.
Prescription antiviral drugs such as Paxlovid will be available at no cost for those in need. The Biden administration will closely monitor flu variants to assess any potential impacts on measures to fight the virus. People are also being encouraged to mask up again. Per infectious disease specialist Dr. Jacob Lemieux, “I would definitely consider it,” especially at sizeable indoor events.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan is funding these precautions. Congress will likely need to pass additional fiscal measures to continue the fight against COVID sooner rather than later as funds start running low.
The United States has recently seen an uptick in COVID cases. During the week of December 7, almost 459,000 cases were reported, along with 3,000 deaths. It is important to note the timing of this surge, as it occurred shortly after Thanksgiving. Public health officials strongly suggest anyone visiting friends or family over the holiday season get tested for COVID before attending such gatherings.
As Dr. Lemieux observed, “Our toolkit is about as good as it’s going to get.” Now, the public needs to use these tools to prevent the spread of not just one but three active health threats.