In his first full day in office, President Joe Biden rolled out a comprehensive plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic, releasing a 200-page document outlining his strategy while signing executive actions to jumpstart the federal response to the coronavirus.
Pledging a “full-scale wartime effort,” Biden signed 10 executive orders Thursday that touched on a range of Covid-related issues, including vaccine production, mask wearing and worker protections. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around,” Biden said. “Despite the best intentions we’re going to face setbacks. To a nation waiting for action, let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”
The document detailing Biden’s strategy calls for a coordinated national response to the pandemic based on science. “We can and will beat COVID-19,” it says. “America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data, and public health – not politics. Through the release of the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, the United States is initiating a coordinated pandemic response that not only improves the effectiveness of our fight against COVID-19, but also helps restore trust, accountability and a sense of common purpose in our response to the pandemic.”
The executive orders and actions Biden signed on Thursday address the following issues:
Vaccines: Increase the supply of vaccines to reach the goal of administering 100 million vaccines — enough for 50 million people — in Biden’s first 100 days.
Testing: Create a National Pandemic Testing Board to improve testing capacity throughout the country.
Treatments: Boost the development of therapeutics to fight the disease for those who get sick.
Supply chain: The federal government is ordered to “secure supplies necessary for responding to the pandemic” and examine whether further use of the Defense Production Act is warranted.
Supply costs: The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse states for the cost of protective equipment and National Guard deployments.
Schools: The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are directed to provide guidance for safe re-openings and operations.
Worker protections: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will release guidance on Covid-19, consider new standards and enforce safety requirements.
Travel: Facial coverings are required in airports and on some trains, planes, ships and buses. International travelers to the U.S. must provide proof of negative Covid-19 tests.
Fairness: Establish a Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force to ensure an equitable pandemic response.
Global leadership: Biden ordered the federal government to restore America's leadership on health issues.
Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation said that Biden’s plan contained few surprises. “Reading President Biden’s COVID plans, I’m struck by how predictable they are, following from things he's been saying for weeks,” Levitt wrote. “Biden will do plenty of controversial things, but predictability allows people and organizations to plan, not a small thing with multiple crises.”
The plan’s rollout comes amid accusations that the Biden administration received “no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration,” as CNN reported Thursday. “There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” a source said.
Biden’s Covid response coordinator, Jeff Zients, laid the current state of the pandemic response squarely at the feet of the Trump administration. “For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach, to respond to Covid, and we’ve seen the tragic costs of that failure,” he told reporters.
However effective the new approach may prove to be, one thing is clear: It will require lots of funding from Congress to get off the ground, with much of the $1.9 trillion Biden has requested going toward the effort. “On the asymptomatic screening side, we’re woefully undercapacity, so we need the money in order to really ramp up testing, which is so important to reopening schools and businesses,” Zients told The New York Times. “We need the testing. We need the money from Congress to fund the national strategy that the president will lay out.”