Biden Warns of ‘Dark Winter,’ Urges Americans to Wear Masks as Covid Cases Top 10 Million
Health Care

Biden Warns of ‘Dark Winter,’ Urges Americans to Wear Masks as Covid Cases Top 10 Million

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President-elect Joe Biden made clear Monday what he sees as Job. 1: addressing the coronavirus pandemic that just reached a new milestone, topping 10 million confirmed cases.

After a victory speech Saturday in which he urged a polarized nation to come together and renewed his promise to try to be a president for all Americans, Biden began his transition to office on Monday by signaling just how different his approach to the virus would be. He warned that the United States faces “a dark winter” ahead, pleaded with Americans to wear face masks, emphasized that his response would be informed by science and announced a new advisory board of public health experts to help guide his efforts.

Biden lauded drugmaker Pfizer’s announcement that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective in a trial, but noted that even if the vaccine is approved, it won’t be widely available for months. Pfizer said Monday that it aims to deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 50 million people, by March. Biden, who has mapped out a coordinated national strategy to combat the virus, warned Monday that hundreds of thousands more could die if the public grows complacent before the vaccine arrives.

“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said. “Please, I implore you, wear a mask.”

A new advisory board: In a 5 a.m. news release, Biden formally announced that the new Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board will be co-chaired by:

  • Dr. David Kessler, who served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton;
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was Surgeon General under President Obama from 2014 to 2017;
  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.

Others on the 13-member task force include:

  • Dr. Luciana Borio, who was director for medical and biodefense preparedness on President Trump’s National Security Council until 2019;
  • Dr. Rick Bright, the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, who filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic;
  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania;
  • Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School who is also a noted author and former head of health care venture Haven;
  • Dr. Celine Gounder of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine;
  • Dr. Eric Goosby, global AIDS coordinator under President Barack Obama and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine;
  • Dr. Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former Chicago health commissioner;
  • Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota;
  • Loyce Pace, president and executive director of the Global Health Council, a nonprofit dedicated to global health issues;
  • Dr. Robert Rodriguez, a professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine.

Multiple challenges ahead: We only have one president at a time, so even as Biden looks to take an assertive role in the nation’s pandemic response, time and the Trump administration may complicate his plans. With more than two months until Biden is set to take office, the surge in virus cases is expected to continue, given that Trump is unlikely to enact more aggressive efforts to curb it.

“The reality is that by the time the president-elect takes office, we’ll probably be at the sort of apex, if you will, of what we’re going through right now,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “You know, this is going to play out over the next couple of months. And I think as the president takes office, we'll be coming down the other side of the epidemic curve, hopefully. And the only question is going to be how many people have died in the course of this and how many people have been infected.”

And as President Trump contests the election results, cooperation between the current administration and the incoming one remains a question. The head of the General Services Administration — Emily Murphy, a Trump political appointee — still needs to “ascertain” that Biden won the election, and without that ruling, the Biden team won’t be able to access nearly $10 million in transition funds “and resources such as briefing books prepared by career federal employees,” Government Executive reports.

Biden has called for ramping up the country’s testing and contact-tracing efforts, and he is reportedly looking to take a role in the congressional negotiations over a new coronavirus stimulus package. But securing the funding necessary to enact his initiatives could also be a challenge.

Planning executive orders: As he prepares to take office and strategizes how best to advance his agenda in the face of likely Republican control of the Senate, Biden reportedly is also readying a series of executive orders that he can sign quickly after taking office. From The Washington Post:

“He will rejoin the Paris climate accords, according to those close to his campaign and commitments he has made in recent months, and he will reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization. He will repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries, and he will reinstate the program allowing “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children, to remain in the country, according to people familiar with his plans.”

The bottom line: He’s not president yet, so all Biden can really do for now is lay the groundwork for his plans and use the bully pulpit he now has to encourage a new approach to the virus.