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President Biden speaks to a crowd in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday. Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images

The Biden administration announced Wednesday it's increasing the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month — as the Omicron variant drives a surge in cases and causes widespread disruption to education.

Why it matters: While it appears Omicron causes less severe illness than other variants, it's still placing a strain on health care systems and causing a drop in teacher and student attendance.

  • Many school districts are struggling to keep classrooms staffed. Some 4,561 U.S. schools either shifted to virtual classes or closed temporarily for at least one day last week.
  • The Biden administration's announcement builds on its "test-to-stay" strategy that aims to keep students in school, which was unveiled last month.

The big picture: The administration "will distribute 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month to help K-12 schools stay open and to implement and sustain screening testing and test to stay programs," according to a White House fact sheet.

  • It will make lab capacity available to support an additional 5 million PCR tests per month for schools to perform individual and pooled testing in classrooms nationwide.
  • The administration is also deploying federal surge testing units to support free testing access for students, school staff and families at community testing sites —  a policy aimed at assisting the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities and supporting safe operations of K-12 schools.

The administration is also connecting schools with COVID-19 testing providers to set up school testing programs using funds from the American Rescue Plan — the coronavirus stimulus package enacted last March.

  • There will also be further training, resources and materials for implementing "test-to-stay" in schools, according to the White House.

By the numbers: Despite the burdens caused by the pandemic, 96% of schools have remained open for in-person classes so far this month, compared to 46% in January last year, per the White House.

  • With the additional 10 million tests per month, the administration said it will "make available to schools more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November," the most recent data available on the matter.

Go deeper: Schools grapple with COVID testing

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.