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In his State of the Union address, President Biden outlined a program that would allow Americans to be tested for the coronavirus at pharmacies and given free antiviral treatments on the spot if they test positive.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

The White House issued a new coronavirus strategy on Wednesday, a 96-page plan aimed at ushering the United States into what some are calling a “new normal” with four main goals: protecting against and treating Covid-19; preparing for new variants; avoiding shutdowns and fighting the virus abroad.

“Make no mistake, President Biden will not accept just ‘living with Covid’ any more than we accept ‘living with’ cancer, Alzheimer’s, or AIDS,” the plan declares. “We will continue our work to stop the spread of the virus, blunt its impact on those who get infected, and deploy new treatments to dramatically reduce the occurrence of severe Covid-19 disease and deaths.”

The plan comes on the heels of the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, which Mr. Biden used to sketch out the next phase of his pandemic response, including a “test to treat” initiative aimed at providing patients with antiviral medications as soon as they learn they are infected.

While that initiative is new, much of the strategy draws on actions the administration is already taking. And much of it will require funding from Congress.

For instance, the strategy also includes a plan, unveiled by the White House in November, that will require Congressional funding to expand manufacturing capacity, with the goal of producing at least one billion additional doses a year — three times the U.S. population — and to accelerate research on a universal Covid-19 vaccine that would protect against all variants.

The administration also pledged in the plan to work with Congress to “give schools and businesses guidance, tests and supplies to stay open, including tools to improve ventilation and air filtration.”

Mr. Biden came into office more than a year ago with a 200-page plan to combat the coronavirus, which was the most pressing challenge in his nascent presidency. Since then, more than 200 million Americans have been vaccinated. Two new waves — one fueled by the Delta variant, the other by Omicron — have driven up deaths to nearly 1 million.

The idea behind the new strategy is to get the nation out of crisis mode and to a place, Mr. Biden has said, where the virus will no longer disrupt everyday life. The president spoke in broad strokes about the way forward in his State of the Union address; the new plan fleshes out the speech with details.

“I know you’re tired, frustrated and exhausted,” he said Tuesday, adding: “But I also know this: Because of the progress we’ve made, because of your resilience and the tools that we have been provided by this Congress, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines.”

Under the “test to treat” program, Mr. Biden said, Americans could get tested at a pharmacy and, if they are positive, “receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.”

Although the pills, made by Pfizer, have been relatively scarce since they were authorized late last year, he said in his speech that “Pfizer is working overtime to get us one million pills this month and more than double that next month.”

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details, said people could receive pills through the program starting this month, including at places like CVS, Walgreens and Kroger.

The initiative will also involve educating the public about the availability of new antiviral treatments, the official said, and the importance of starting them soon after symptoms begin. And it will distribute them directly to long-term care facilities.

Mr. Biden also vowed in his Tuesday night address to prepare for new variants, saying that if necessary, his administration could deploy new vaccines within 100 days of a variant’s arrival. He called on Congress to provide new funding for the administration to stockpile more tests, masks and pills. He also said that Americans who ordered free at-home tests from a government website, covidtests.gov, would be able to order more beginning next week.

“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come,” he said. “But I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does.”

There are an average of about 60,000 new U.S. cases a day, according to a New York Times database. That is far less than the 800,000 daily average in January, at the peak of the winter surge fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. But it is still much higher than the daily caseload last June, before Delta drove a summer surge.

Even as Mr. Biden proclaims that things are getting better, large groups of Americans remain at risk. Children under 5 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. On Monday, New York State health officials released data showing that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is much less effective in preventing infection in children 5 to 11 years than in adolescents or adults.

And an estimated seven million Americans have weak immune systems, illnesses or other disabilities that make them more vulnerable to severe Covid. The White House announced last week that it was taking several steps to make masks and coronavirus tests more accessible to people with disabilities.


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