Warning that there is still a long road ahead as America tries to get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden rolled out his coronavirus strategy today with 10 executive orders and a vow to battle the virus “based on science, not politics… based on truth, not denial.”
On the new president’s first full day in office, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported more than 24.5 million COVID cases since the first cases were detected in the United States a year ago, and more 409,000 deaths.
“The death toll will likely top 500,000 next month. The cases will continue to mount,” Biden said at the White House today. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around 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.”
The White House released the 200-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness today, which stresses sustained and coordinated collaboration and rests on seven goals:
- “Restore trust with the American people.”
- “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.”
- “Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, data, treatments, health care workforce, and clear public health standards.”
- “Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act.”
- “Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers.”
- “Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.”
- “Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.”
To achieve those goals, the strategy details initiatives such as “regular, expert-led, science-based public briefings and release regular reports on the state of the pandemic,” public health education campaigns aimed at issues such as mask and vaccination hesitancy, accelerating vaccine administration especially in the communities most in need and among hard-to-reach or high-risk populations, making sure “scientists are in charge of all decisions related to vaccine safety and efficacy,” establishing the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, and building better biopreparedness and expanding resilience for biological threats including with international partners.
The White House is establishing a COVID-19 Response Office to coordination implementation of the strategy across federal agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will launch the Federal Pharmacy Program to expand community vaccine distribution, and FEMA will establish a COVID response liaison for each state. A COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board will be tasked with expanding testing where it’s needed most, and FEMA is tasked with the goal of standing up 100 federally supported community vaccination centers within the next month.
“The honest truth is we’re still in a dark winter of this pandemic. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to take many months to get where we need to be,” Biden said. “…Despite the best intentions, we’re going to face setbacks, which I will always explain to you. But I also know we can do this if we come together. That’s why ultimately our plan is based on unity and all of us acting as one nation.”
Biden signed executive orders today to:
- Establish the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board and a Public Health Workforce Program
- Protect workers from COVID-19 Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act
- Have the departments of Education and Health and Human Services develop “evidence-based guidance to assist States and elementary and secondary schools in deciding whether and how to reopen, and how to remain open, for in-person learning; and in safely conducting in-person learning, including by implementing mitigation measures such as cleaning, masking, proper ventilation, and testing”
- Establish the public-private partnership COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force at HHS
- Have the State Department, Defense Department, HHS and DHS take an “immediate inventory of response supplies and identification of emergency needs” and use “all available legal authorities, including the Defense Production Act, to fill those shortfalls as soon as practicable by acquiring additional stockpiles, improving distribution systems, building market capacity, or expanding the industrial base”
- Enhance data collection and collaboration capabilities for high-consequence public health threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic
- Accelerate the development of therapies for COVID-19 and “provide targeted surge assistance to critical care and long-term care facilities”
- Require the wearing of masks in airports and on commercial aircraft, trains, public maritime vessels including ferries, and intercity bus services
On Wednesday, Biden signed a pair of executive orders establishing the White House positions of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President (COVID-19 Response Coordinator) and Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response, and mandating the wearing of masks and social distancing in federal buildings and on federal land.
Biden also issued a memorandum today to the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to extend federal support to governors’ use of the National Guard to respond to COVID-19, promising “FEMA shall fund 100 percent of the cost of activities associated with all mission assignments for the use of the National Guard.”
The first full day of the Biden administration also saw the return of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to the White House press briefing, where he called the new strategy “a real ramping up” of COVID measures from the Trump administration.
“If we get 70 percent to 85 percent of the country vaccinated let’s say by the end of the summer, middle of the summer, I believe by the time we get to the fall we will be approaching a degree of normality,” Fauci said. “It’s not going to be perfectly normal, but one that I think will take a lot of pressure off the American public… The concern I have and something we’re working on is getting people who have vaccine hesitancy, who don’t want to get vaccinated, because many people are skeptical about that. So, we really need to do a lot of good outreach for that.”
Asked if he wanted to amend any of his comments from the past year now that he had greater license to speak freely, Fauci replied, “No. I mean, I always said everything on the base — that’s why I got in trouble sometimes, right?”