As the delta variant surges across the country, the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced it is investing $1.6 billion in an effort to boost COVID-19 testing and mitigation efforts in facilities that are at risk of outbreaks.
In a press release Thursday, the HHS said the funding — allocated to the agency in the latest round of COVID-19 stimulus — will fight the virus in areas with high-risk populations prone to outbreaks, including prisons, homeless shelters, and treatment and recovery facilities and domestic violence shelters.
"As we continue the vaccination program to get more Americans protected, it is important that we double down on our efforts to increase testing especially in vulnerable communities," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we can make sure high-risk environments like correctional facilities and shelters for those experiencing homelessness have greater capacity for testing to prevent potential outbreaks and continue our nation's progress in moving out of the pandemic."
According to the press release, the funding will be used to increase testing abilities, hire contact traces, purchase personal protective equipment and continue vaccinations among populations in such facilities.
HHS's announcement comes as the delta variant surges across the country. According to the CDC, the highly transmissible strain of COVID-19 currently accounts for 83% of cases throughout the country, and cases of the virus have ticked up for the first time in several months.
According to the CDC and top health officials in the White House, Americans who are vaccinated have significant protection from the delta variant and should feel comfortable going without masks and social distancing unless their local health department says otherwise.
However, to Americans who have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC says the delta variant poses a significant risk. Experts say the delta variant is 50% more transmissible than the beta variant, which was first detected in the U.K. in late 2020.
Health experts fear that as the delta variant continues to spread, communities in which vaccination rates are low may see a surge in hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus.