President Joe Biden said on Thursday he was deploying more military health workers to hospitals in six U.S. states. The move is “part of a major deployment of our nation’s armed forces to help hospitals across the country manage this surge of the Omicron virus,” Biden said.
“I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year,” Biden said, while reiterating his message that COVID-19 continues to be a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.“
The phased dispatch of 1,000 military health personnel beginning next week comes as U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high with Omicron overtaking Delta as the dominant variant of the coronavirus and health facilities facing a staffing crunch.
In the first wave of the deployment, teams of military doctors, nurses and other personnel will head to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island to support at-capacity emergency rooms and free up overwhelmed hospital staff for non-COVID cases, the White House said.
Some states’ hospitals are at or near capacity. New Jersey had 6,089 COVID patients in the hospital on Wednesday, a Reuters tally showed. Around 73% of hospital beds in the state are filed, as well as 53% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
In Rhode Island, where the Department of Health and Human Services said 86% of hospital and 90% of ICU beds are filled, hospital officials were hopeful federal help would offset staffing shortages caused by Omicron infections to personnel that are hitting many health systems.
With a high number of hospital staff falling ill with COVID, the surge has “created a lot of stress on the system in a world where it’s hard to staff the beds that we have,” Rhode Island Hospital President Saul Weingart said, adding that his hospital expects to receive 20 military health workers.
Biden also announced he would direct the U.S. government to procure an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests to help meet surging demand across the country. The White House had previously pledged 500 million tests would be available to Americans starting in January.