Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
President Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail that if elected, he would implement a massive federal response to address the coronavirus pandemic, including free testing and an aggressive vaccine rollout. The effort is to start almost immediately Wednesday, as in his first hours in office will include executive orders aimed at protecting the population from COVID-19.
Biden’s executive orders call on his government to:
- Mandate mask-wearing and physical distancing by federal employees and contractors in all federal buildings and on federal lands. Biden will also launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge” where his administration will ask the American people to wear a mask while in public for his first 100 days in office.
- Create a position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator — essentially a Covid-19 czar — who will report directly to Biden and will be in charge of organizing the federal response. Biden has named Jeff Zients, who led the revival of HealthCare.gov in the Obama administration, to this position.
- Re-engage working with the World Health Organization to combat the pandemic, reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the organization.
Biden’s plans go beyond the orders and represent a shift away from the failed approach of former-president Trump. As he announced his plan Friday in Delaware, Biden said, “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country. You have my word that we will manage the hell out of this operation.”
Biden promised his administration would ensure 100 million Americans are vaccinated in the first 100 days, and he will invest $25 billion in the effort. Here is how Biden plans to deliver the vaccine to the public with no out-of-pocket costs to them:
- Use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard to establish thousands of community vaccination sites. Reimburse states for cost of deploying National Guard.
- Make vaccinations available in retail pharmacies across the United States.
- Launch mobile vaccination clinics deployed in hard-to-reach, marginalized and medically-underserved communities.
- Encourage states to broaden eligibility beyond the elderly and frontline workers so that “as vaccines become available, they will reach more people who need them.”
- Create programs to vaccinate high-risk populations such as homeless shelters, jails, and institutions for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- Manufacture large amounts of the vaccine using the Defense Production Act.
- Expand the number of medical professionals qualified to give the vaccine by allowing “certain qualified professionals” such as retired doctors and nurses who may not be currently licensed.
- Create a public health jobs program with funding for 100,000 public health workers to work in community health.
- Run a federal public education campaign to increase trust in the vaccine among those who may be reluctant to get vaccinated.
Additional Biden administration plans aim to address testing, PPE, and resources to help schools, small businesses, families, and marginalized populations. These efforts include:
- Doubling the amount of drive-through testing sites and invest in instant and at-home tests.
- Creating a Pandemic Testing Board to help with the production and distribution of tests.
- Using the Defense Production Act to increase the manufacturing of masks, face shields, and other PPE. Replenish stockpiles “especially in hard-hit areas that serve disproportionately vulnerable populations.”
- Asking the CDC to create guidance for how communities should respond to varying amounts of viral spread in their community so local governments can make informed decisions on when to open or close businesses and schools.
- Establishing a “renewable fund” to help states and local governments address budget shortfalls.
- Requesting Congress pass emergency legislation to give schools additional resources to adapt to the pandemic.
- Giving small businesses a “restart package” to help cover the costs of PPE and other tools so they can operate safely.
- Establishing a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force (an idea Vice President Kamala Harris proposed) to make recommendations and provide oversight around disparities in the public health and economic response.
Finally, the administration also intends to mitigate other potential emerging global health threats by:
- Restoring the Obama-era White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.
- Relaunching the U.S. Agency for International Development’s pathogen-tracking program.
- Growing the number of CDC deployed disease detectives to detect emerging health threats.
Addressing this pandemic as it spreads through the country at a rapid rate will be no small feat, and any pandemic plan will only be as good as its execution. But taking the pandemic seriously, and sending clear signals about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, is a start. As Biden said when discussing the plan last week, “We didn’t get into all of this overnight, we won’t get out of it overnight either. But we will get through it.”