Biden’s special transition team is expected to be the precursor to an official White House COVID-19 response team.
As the coronavirus spirals out of control under President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden has formed a special transition team to marshall the powers of the various federal agencies and coordinate a whole-of-government response, Politico reported on Wednesday.
The team, which consists of 52 transition officials whose work will span across many federal agencies, has not yet been officially introduced and is separate from the coronavirus task force Biden announced Monday. The task force is focused on advising Biden and overseeing public messaging, while the transition group is expected to be the precursor to an official White House COVID-19 response team to be formed after Biden is inaugurated, a member of the team told Politico.
For now, the group plans to meet by video call as much as once a day and is also coordinating with state-level health experts and academics to consult on specific policy proposals. The 13-person coronavirus task force is expected to eventually be integrated into the larger COVID-19 transition team.
Sort Fact From Fiction: Sign up for COURIER’s Newsletter
The formation of Biden’s team comes as the pandemic is spreading across the country at an alarming rate. The US set yet another daily record for cases on Wednesday, recording 144,000 new cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Nearly 1,900 Americans also died of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of fatalities in a single day since mid-May. More than 65,000 Americans are also hospitalized with the disease, a record, and a jarring 38% increase since the beginning of the month, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The virus’ spread is so widespread that 28 states are seeing at least 10% of all tests come back positive, well above the 5% rate recommended by the World Health Organization as a threshold for lifting public restrictions. Things are particularly grim in sparsely populated, rural states like South Dakota (where 55% of all tests are coming back positive), Iowa (50% positive), Kansas (43% positive), Idaho (40% positive), and Wyoming (40% positive).
The surge has strained hospitals, which are running out of beds and medical workers, which could force them to ration care not only for COVID-19 patients, but all patients. Hospitals in states like South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin are inching ever closer to crossing that line, as they’re unable to keep up with the crush of new cases. In El Paso, Texas alone, more than 1,000 people are hospitalized with the virus and so many patients are dying that the city has been forced to set up 10 mobile morgues.
“Previously the epidemics were regionalized … this one is really across the country. Every hospital system is a little pressed right now,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration under Trump, told CNBC’s Squawk Box on Thursday.
The crisis is so dire in the US that Doctors Without Borders has now dispatched international aid workers American states to help.
“This is a humanitarian disaster—probably one of the worst stories I’ve covered in my career,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said Thursday.
Doctors and public health officials are warning that things will only get worse unless significant measures are taken.
“I thought I saw the worst of #COVID19 in early spring. But I’m more worried about the pace & future damage of this pandemic than I’ve ever been,” Dr. Craig Spencer, a New York City ER doctor, tweeted Wednesday. “This administration has failed. Full stop. Now tens of thousands of lives are on the line.”
What can be done to mitigate the damage?
Gottlieb called on Congress to provide economic support to help incentivize Americans to stay home and slow the spread of the virus during the winter months. He also once again emphasized the importance of wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings in order to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
Experts are particularly worried about an additional explosion of cases after Thanksgiving, when many Americans are expected to travel and gather with larger groups. These types of small gatherings in the household have recently become the key driver in rising cases.
“Please be careful around Thanksgiving—reduce contacts, limit travel. Otherwise, there’s a strong chance we’re going to see explosive spread throughout December,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a tweet.
RELATED: The US Just Broke Another COVID Record and the Trump Administration Is Refusing to Do Anything About It
Dr. Tara Smith, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at Kent State University echoed Frieden’s advice. “Given record case numbers across the U.S., the best thing to do is simply not have an extended family gathering, full stop,” Smith tweeted.
If things continue at this pace, more than 110,000 additional deaths are expected in the US in just the next two months, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, shared an even more grim projection, making clear that by the time Biden was in office, he and his team would have his hands full.
“By the week after the inauguration, we’ll likely hit 400,000 Americans who perish from COVID-19,” Hotez told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “[That] is the same number of Americans who lost their lives in World War II.”