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Responding to questions about whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should have been surging resources for COVID-19 testing months ago – before the omicron variant of the coronavirus began to infect individuals nationwide – Administrator Deanne Criswell said Friday that the agency was working to support states based on what they had requested. 

Speaking at the White House press briefing, the leader said FEMA’s role has always been to support hospitals, schools and public service agencies. 

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“We have been supporting them through the delivery and reimbursement for PPE, for the medical staff that we’re sending out. That has not changed and that support will continue,” she replied

“And, the additional support that’s coming out for the general population is something that FEMA does not participate in and those are the items that you’re hearing are going to be announced and available to the general public later,” Criswell noted. 

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, accompanied by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

When asked why FEMA had not made the decision to surge public testing sites in anticipation that there would be surges of variants like omicron, the administrator said the agency was working with states routinely and “hearing what their needs are” and basing support to them on what they need. 

“And so, as they request additional assistance, that’s when we come together and give them the assistance that they need,” she concluded.

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Criswell also pledged that the administration and FEMA would “continue to surge staff, push resources and provide support using every tool that … available to fight against COVID-19,” including action to expand FEMA policy. 

“As critical as our doctors and nurses are, countless other professionals keep our hospitals running. Patient transporters, workers and cleaning staff are all at the heart of these healthcare facilities,” she said. “I am now directing an expansion of our FEMA policy to permit funding to states who elect to use their National Guard troops to fill these critical support roles in hospitals. This pandemic has shifted and changed through the delta variant and now the omicron variant, but our commitment of the entire federal family has not changed. Together, we will continue to surge staff, push resources and provide support using every tool that we have available to fight our fight against COVID-19.”

Several states across the country have deployed the National Guard to assist hospitals and testing sites this month.

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The Biden administration has faced criticism in recent weeks for low inventory and long lines for testing. 

The president announced Thursday that he would double an order for at-home tests – to be distributed to Americans via a federal testing website – to 1 billion.