While on vacation, Murphy addresses COVID test capacity with Biden
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday pledged the full support of the federal government to states facing surges in COVID-19 cases from the more-transmissible omicron variant and a run on at-home tests.
Joining a regular meeting between his coronavirus response team and the National Governors Association, Biden said, "My message is: If you need something, say something, and we are going to have your back any way we can."
Biden acknowledged long lines and chaotic scenes as Americans sought out testing amid the case surge and as they looked to safely gather with family and friends over the holiday.
He referenced his administration's plan to make 500 million rapid tests available to Americans beginning next month through an as-yet-to-be-developed website.
'If we had known, we would have gone harder, quicker, if we could've.'
"We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December," the president said. "But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough. If I had — if we had known, we would have gone harder, quicker, if we could've."
NGA Chairman and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said he looked forward to continuing to work with the president to expand at-home testing capacity.
"I particularly appreciate your comments about increasing the supply chain on rapid COVID tests. This has become a real challenge for the governors," Hutchinson said. "We also, as governors, are getting pressure to do more, and the need is great to do more in terms of the rapid test and the availability of it."
A White House official said the new tests would come from new manufacturing capacity and wouldn't interfere with existing supply chains.
Making reference to his native Pennsylvania and current home state of Delaware, Biden singled out NGA Vice Chairman Phil Murphy, who is in line to head the organization next summer.
The New Jersey governor remains on a Christmas vacation in Costa Rica with his family, and is due to return to the Garden State on Thursday, according to the governor's office.
"Thank you for what you're doing, thank you for the National Governors Association, and Vice Chair Murphy across the river, all's well in New Jersey, I assume, Gov?" Biden asked.
"Amen, Mr. President," Murphy said.
But all was not well in New Jersey on Monday. With all but two facilities reporting, statewide hospitalizations topped 2,650 following the Christmas holiday weekend, marking the most people receiving treatment since Feb. 10.
The rate of transmission, which Murphy and state health officials have long pointed to as a guiding metric, is now 1.66, meaning roughly that for every three people currently contagious with COVID, five more will become infected, and the outbreak continues to expand.
The Rt, as it's known shorthand, eclipsed for a second straight day the July 28 mark of 1.51, which had been the highest figure recorded in New Jersey since the earliest days of the pandemic.
'If you're unvaccinated, you're at a high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, and hospitalized, and in rare cases even dying.'
Biden continued to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, to complete their initial vaccine series, and then to get boosted when eligible.
"If you're fully vaccinated and you get your booster shot, then you're highly protected," he said. "If you're unvaccinated, you're at a high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, and hospitalized, and in rare cases even dying."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.