Biden to give Omicron-focused speech on Tuesday

President Joe Biden on December 14, in Washington, DC., will give an Omicron variant-focused speech, according to a White House official.

By Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny, CNN

(CNN) -- President Joe Biden will give an Omicron variant-focused speech on Tuesday as the nation contends with higher case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations from the coronavirus heading into the holidays.

"Building off his Winter Plan, @POTUS will announce new steps the Administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance, while also issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a series of tweets. "We are prepared for the rising case levels, and @POTUS will detail how we will respond to this challenge."

NBC News first reported on the speech.

Psaki's comments that the administration is "prepared for the rising case levels," comes as Vice President Kamala Harris told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Friday that the administration was caught unprepared for the rise of Covid variants.

"We didn't see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn't see Delta coming," Harris told the Times in a year-end interview. "We didn't see Omicron coming. And that's the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants."

News of Biden's speech on the new variant comes after he delivered a "direct message" to the country on Thursday, warning that people who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 are looking at a bleak and dangerous winter if they do not get their shots soon.

"I want to send a direct message to the American people: Due to the steps we've taken Omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would have otherwise done," Biden said in remarks at the White House following his Covid-19 briefing Thursday.

Ahead of his Thursday remarks, Biden's top health officials urged him to deliver that message in the clearest terms possible, according to people familiar with the session. Only by laying out the stark difference in outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated infections could the gravity of the moment come through.

Biden and his team -- which included Dr. Anthony Fauci, two top vaccine experts from the National Institutes of Health, White House Covid response coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy Natalie Quillian -- set to work writing out by hand the grave warning he would deliver later when cameras were ushered into the room.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has thrust the nation -- and the White House -- back into an uncertain pandemic reality, posing both public health and political challenges for a leader whose ultimate success depends almost entirely on his ability to contain the virus.

Already, cases and hospitalizations are surging in some parts of the country, leading to a 31% increase in cases and a 20% increase in hospitalizations from two weeks ago.

Yet Biden and his team have all but ruled out new lockdowns, and behind the scenes, administration officials have been debating how to shift public attention from the total number of cases -- which appear likely to surge, even if many are mild -- toward the number of severe infections that are overloading health systems and causing interruptions to normal life.

This story has been updated with additional information and context.

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