“Our work begins with getting Covid under control,” said President-elect Biden in his victory speech on Saturday. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control.”
He made these remarks at a time when the pandemic is hitting one of its worst phases in the United States. Case numbers and hospitalizations are at all-time highs, and daily deaths from the disease have been rising since mid-October, according to the Covid Tracking project. On Saturday, the President-elect also promised to be someone “who doesn’t see Red and Blue states, but a United States”—a call that will be put to the test since the parts of the country currently hit hardest by the pandemic overwhelmingly voted for President Trump.
On Monday, Biden plans to announce a task force to put his Covid-19 plan into effect, a group that will reportedly be co-chaired by former FDA commissioner David Kessler and former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. The President-elect’s transition website has also posted the future Administration’s plans, which is centered around the mantra “Listen to science.”
It’s important to note that nothing Biden’s task force does will have any authority until January 20, and that until then, the United States faces what will likely be a very hard winter. Multiple public health officials have expressed concern that the months ahead will see case numbers hitting over 200,000 per day and over 1,000 deaths per day.
Once the new Administration is sworn in, however, the transition task force will enable it to hit the ground running. Here are its priorities:
Nationwide Mask Mandates
The Federal government doesn’t have the power to implement a requirement that Americans wear masks, but it does wield a lot of influence. One of the cornerstones of Biden’s plan is to work with governors and local officials to urge a nationwide mask mandate for Americans when “they are around people outside their household.”
This alone could make a big difference, both for people’s lives and for the economy. A recent analysis by researchers at Vanderbilt University found that areas with mask mandates have lower hospitalization rates from Covid-19 than areas that don’t. And a Goldman Sachs estimate over the summer suggested a mask mandate would save the economy over $1 trillion.
“Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.”
More Accessible (And Free) Testing
The Biden Administration has proposed that the federal government help double the number of drive-thru Covid-19 testing locations, and ensure that the cost of tests are free. It also wants to expand on the Trump Administration’s efforts to fund investments in more home tests and rapid tests. Additionally, it proposes to apply policies from World War II used to scale up war production to the production of tests, and to hire 100,000 people across the country to help with contract tracing and protection efforts.
Though testing isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to containing the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s an important part of providing the information that public health officials need to make crucial public health decisions. “What they are is a conduit to data that informs a decision” Rahul Dhanda, cofounder and CEO of Sherlock Biosciences, told Forbes earlier this month. Early in the pandemic, for example, flaws in a CDC distributed test hampered the ability to respond to the virus quickly.
The future Biden Administration proposes a more active role for the CDC in communicating information about Covid-19 and its response. In the transition website, the President-elect says that the CDC will be directed to provide clear guidance on how communities can respond to the spread of Covid-19 in their communities, including “including when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces; when to open or close schools, and what steps they need to take to make classrooms and facilities safe; appropriate restrictions on size of gatherings; when to issue stay-at-home restrictions.”
Additionally, the President-elect has also called for the creation of a “Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard,” a website that would enable people to check on virus activity in their community in real time. The site would also provide advice for individuals to help them understand what precautions they should take in their area.
Financial Support For Communities And Businesses
Biden has called for Congress to pass an emergency package to ensure schools, local businesses and state and local governments all have sufficient funding during particular phases of responses to Covid-19. Given the constant back and forths between the House of Representatives and the Senate, over a second stimulus package, it’s hard to know exactly what this might look like, despite what Biden pushes for. A clearer answer may come in Georgia, as the two runoff elections there in January will likely determine which party will control the Senate.
Additionally, the President-elect promises to “fix personal protective equipment problems for good” by utilizing the Defense Production Act to build up a stockpile of PPE for health systems. Additionally, the future Administration says it intends to develop policies to encourage scaling up an “American-sourced” manufacturing capability for PPE in the event of future health crises, though there’s been very little detail about this aspect of the plan released.
Equitable Vaccine Distribution
Although nations like Taiwan, New Zealand and South Korea (and even states like Vermont) have shown it’s possible to contain Covid-19 through public health measures alone, the resurgence in the United States and Europe suggest that life won’t get back to normal in most of the world until a vaccine has been approved.
To that end, Biden plans to invest in a $25 billion manufacturing and distribution plan to provide free vaccines to Americans, though details of that plan are vague at the moment. It’s also not clear whether the promise to ensure free vaccines will continue in the future in the event it turns out that, like the flu, Covid-19 vaccines need to be regularly re-administered.
Promoting International Cooperation
Perhaps that sharpest break in policy with the Trump Administration, the President-elect promises to “immediately restore our relationship with the World Health Organization.” It also plans to restore other public health initiatives geared towards international cooperation that have been either eliminated or diminished under the Trump administration, including the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense and the Agency for International Development’s PREDICT program, which helps track the spread of epidemics.