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At-home tests, vaccinations become key to safe holiday gatherings

▶ Watch Video: President Biden to deliver remarks as the nation battles the Omicron variant

In a speech Tuesday, President Biden is expected to acknowledge that this is an uncertain time and will emphasize the tools at the country’s disposal to make it through this new COVID-19 wave. 

Omicron is now the dominant COVID strain in the United States, making up more than 73% of new cases, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate. 

In his speech, Mr. Biden is expected to emphasize CDC data that shows the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die from COVID. 

In an exclusive interview with “Face the Nation” moderator and CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, Vice President Kamala Harris also pleaded with Americans to get their shots. 

“There is a lot about this moment that is frustrating. But let’s not forget our individual power to actually do something about it. Everyone has to get vaccinated. The vaccines are free. They are safe and they’ll save your life,” Harris said. 

“Is it the fault of the unvaccinated?” Brennan asked.  

“I would not blame it on anyone in that way. But it is more about individual power and responsibility. But it is clear that everyone has the ability to make a choice to save their lives,” Harris said.  

The message from the White House comes as Washington, D.C. declared a state of emergency and issued a new mandate. New York state is battling record positive COVID infections for four consecutive days this week.  

Travel is also ramping up as Americans prepare for the holidays. This is the second holiday season in a row under a major COVID threat.  

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci told “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil that those who are vaccinated and boosted and are planning a small gathering with family and friends who are also vaccinated and boosted should “feel comfortable” to enjoy the holiday with their loved ones. 

“I have my family, my wife and my children are in right now. We’re vaccinated, we’re boosted, I feel perfectly comfortable in the home with them having a dinner, having a social gathering,” Fauci said. 

During the president’s speech, he will announce plans to increase support for hospitals, improve access to COVID-19 testing through hundreds of millions of rapid at-home tests.  

According to Dr. Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist at NYU and Bellevue Hospital in New York, rapid tests are still “useful and reliable.” But individuals should still get a PCR test if they have symptoms and have tested negative with a rapid at-home test. 

“If you have a negative test result on a rapid test and you’ve had a high-risk exposure, somebody you know had COVID or you have symptoms, I would still get a PCR test at your local public health department,” Gounder said.  



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