Military medical personnel are beginning to deploy to states hit hardest by the latest surge in coronavirus cases across America, but President Joe Biden warned that their efforts won’t be enough alone to stem the pressures being heaped on hospitals by the virus.

“Our military is stepping up as they always do,” Biden said in a national address on his newest steps to fight the spread of the virus. “But there are others sitting on the sidelines, or standing in the way.

“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, do it. Personal choice impacts us all, our hospitals, our country.”

About 120 military medical personnel are in the first group of emergency response teams headed to Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island. Officials in those states have said that emergency capacity at their hospitals are nearing capacity because of the dramatic spike in coronavirus cases over the last month.

Nearly 900 more Defense Department personnel will be deployed in coming weeks, according to the White House.

Already, federal response teams including other military medical specialists are working in 24 other states. Another 14,000 National Guard troops are taking part in other pandemic-connected missions across the country.

Biden praised that work so far, but said the Defense Department help alone won’t be enough to guide the nation through the remaining weeks of the surge.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are testing positive. But what happens after that could not be more different.

“Vaccinated people who test positive, they overwhelmingly have either no symptoms at all, or they have mild symptoms. And the unvaccinated, if they test positive, they are 17 times more likely to get hospitalized. As a result, they’re crowding our hospitals leaving little room for anyone else who might have a heart attack or an injury in an automobile accident.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was on hand for Biden’s address. Following the speech, Biden was scheduled to get a briefing on work done so far by military medical teams in Arizona, Michigan and New York.

In addition to the military mobilizations, Biden announced plans to distribute free covid at-home testing kits to any American who wants them. The administration had previously ordered more than 500 million kits, but Biden announced plans Thursday to purchase 500 million more.

A website to request those kits is expected to made public next week.

Biden also said that officials are working to make sure health care workers have personal protective equipment to handle the increasing demand caused by covid cases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 840,000 Americans have died from complications related to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

About 79 percent of Americans over the age of 5 have received a coronavirus vaccination. Despite that, the CDC reported more than 700,000 new cases of the virus across the country in the last month.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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