Biden’s first full day in office proves a commitment to science to end the coronavirus pandemic and exemplifies something the Trump administration failed to have: a national strategy.
Joe Biden has only been president for 24 hours but has already begun an aggressive effort to address the coronavirus pandemic. Biden unveiled a 200-page national coronavirus plan and signed a slew of executive orders on Thursday to increase access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines, safely reopen schools and make travel safer, protect workers, and advance racial equity.
By releasing a comprehensive national strategy, Biden has made clear he is committed to mounting the kind of strong, coordinated national response that President Donald Trump never did.
Rather than leave state and local governments to compete amongst themselves and flounder as the pandemic rips across the nation, as Trump did, Biden is already marshaling the power of the federal government to try to rein in the pandemic.
“The National Strategy provides a roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century,” the plan reads. “It outlines an actionable plan across the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
That plan is built around seven key goals, which include mounting a “safe, effective, and comprehensive” vaccination campaign; expanding masking, testing, and data collection; and invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to compel companies to manufacture more swabs, masks, and other supplies.
Biden’s forceful steps come as the US crossed yet another grim milestone this week, surpassing 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Since the first case was identified in the US, more than 24 million Americans have been infected with the virus.
Speaking on Thursday, Biden acknowledged that more dark days lie ahead as the virus continues to spread across the nation, but he also promised that things would get better.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around,” Biden said on Thursday. “But let me be equally clear: We will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic. And to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point—Help is on the way.”
Public health officials and healthcare workers have long pleaded for a strong national plan but were rebuffed by the Trump administration. Biden’s advisers said this week that they were stunned by the lack of a vaccine distribution plan and received little cooperation from the Trump administration.
“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, told the New York Times. “The cooperation or lack of cooperation from the Trump administration has been an impediment. We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”
“There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” a source with direct knowledge of the Biden administration’s coronavirus plan told CNN.
The Trump administration’s vaccine rollout was carried out so haphazardly that many states, including California, Florida, and New York, are now reporting that they are running out of vaccine doses, forcing them to cancel appointments for tens of thousands of people. Those states are hoping the Biden administration can improve the process.
The work of doing so began on Wednesday when Biden used executive orders to:
- Appoint Zients as the official COVID-19 response coordinator, a role in which he will lead efforts to improve the nation’s response to the pandemic;
- Restore a National Security Council team that focused on global health security and biodefense and was eliminated by Trump;
- Require social distancing and mask-wearing on all federal property and by all federal employees; and
- Reinstate ties with the World Health Organization following Trump’s withdrawal last year.
On Thursday, Biden will sign several additional orders. Orders include directives to create a pandemic testing board to increase coronavirus testing capacity; promote new research into treatments for COVID-19; improve data collection and analyses efforts relating to the pandemic; and direct the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to publish and implement guidelines to protect workers from being infected while in the workplace.
“We don’t have a second to waste when it comes to getting this virus under control,” Biden said in a tweet on Thursday.
His 200-page plan, meanwhile, underscores that his administration wants to “restore trust with the American people.” Biden notes his administration will take a transparent, science-driven, equity-based approach to vaccination and other pandemic-related efforts and provide robust support to schools, businesses, workers, and those most at risk for COVID-19.
“The whole basis for how we do vaccine rollout has to be based on equity, and we’re committed to that,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on the Today Show on Thursday.
The strategy also lays the groundwork for directing more money to states to ramp up testing, vaccination, and other efforts. As Biden said last week, his administration also plans to set up mass vaccination sites at stadiums and gyms while dramatically increasing the nation’s public health workforce to help administer tests and vaccines. Biden’s plan also includes his previously announced decision to distribute the majority vaccine doses as they are made, rather than hold roughly halfback for the second doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Biden and his team have also made clear they will aggressively use the DPA to force companies to ramp up the production of supplies.
“Where we can produce more, we will. Where we need to use the Defense Production Act to help more be made, we’ll do that too,” Tim Manning, Biden’s COVID-19 supply coordinator, told reporters in a call on Wednesday.
Manning said his team had identified a dozen immediate supply shortages, including for N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves, and swabs needed for tests. The administration will also invoke the DPA to increase the production of syringes, raw materials used in vaccines, and other supplies needed to speed up vaccination efforts, officials said.
These various plans underscore Biden’s commitment to delivering on his boldest coronavirus-related pledge: 100 million COVID-19 shots in his first 100 days.
Asked whether that was achievable given the mess they’ve inherited, Zients characterized it as “ambitious but achievable.”
Walensky sounded a similarly confident note. “We said 100 million doses in the first 100 days, and we’re going to stick to that plan,” she said.