Joe Biden New Coronavirus Strategy Isn't Just 'Let The States Fight,' May Take Some Getting Used To
Joe Biden isn't wasting any time getting to work on the coronavirus pandemic, the issue that more than any other sent him to the Oval Office. Yesterday, Biden rolled out a 198-page national strategy for controlling the pandemic, along with 10 new executive orders aimed at starting to put that strategy in place. That's in addition to several pandemic-related orders in his first burst of ordering executively on Wednesday. A full year into the outbreak in the US, Biden is finally doing what public health experts have been calling for from the very beginning: asserting federal leadership to deal with the pandemic.
Biden, unlike that other guy, didn't try to downplay the gravity of the situation we face: The death toll from coronavirus is likely to reach 500,000 in the next month, and the virus will not just suddenly go away:
The cases will continue to mount, 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.
About damn time.
He's From The Government, And Yes, He IS Here To Help
Biden's plan, the "National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness," is aimed along with the executive orders at increasing vaccinations, using the power of the federal government to obtain supplies, and coordinating with the states to make sure they have what they need to do vaccinations, testing, and contact tracing. No more of that letting states figure it out (and bid amongst) themselves.
Calling his strategy a "full-scale wartime effort," Biden noted that it was well past time for the federal government to take the central role in fighting the virus. Without naming any particular disgraced former presidents, he said,
For the past year, we couldn't rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination that we needed, and we have seen the tragic cost of that failure.
The top goal listed in the plan is to "Restore trust with the American people," which after a year of inaction by the prior president is itself a tall order. The fact that there finally is a plan at all ought to help a hell of a lot, as should the Biden administration's decision to make sure the nation's science and public health agencies are in charge of the response. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is now Biden's chief health advisor, was center stage at yesterday's announcement of the new plan, and expressed relief that he'll be able to say what he needs to without worrying this president would toss out a pet theory he heard about on Fox News. Friend of Wonkette Charlie Pierce said Thursday that the newly liberated Fauci "looked 20 years younger" at the presser.
It's a Jab, Jab, Jab
The central goal of the strategy involves ramping up the national vaccination program, with the goal of getting 100 million shots into arms in Biden's first 100 days. Since the US is finally delivering roughly 900,000 vaccinations a day, after a difficult start, that goal should be achievable. Many experts believe the goal should be higher, in fact, since for the two vaccines currently available, two shots spaced about three weeks apart are needed for the vaccine to be most effective.
Full vaccination is nonetheless going to be a tall order; on CNN yesterday, Fauci said he was confident that by the end of this summer, the US "can and should" be able to vaccinate 70 to 85 percent of adults, which would be the threshold for herd immunity and the beginning of some kind of return to normal-ish life. At current rates of vaccination, it would take until February 2022 to reach that goal, but Fauci said the government can definitely increase production and distribution. It has to.
"The only way to solve a problem is to own it," he said. "Everybody wear a mask, everybody adhere to the public health measures, get the vaccine out as expeditiously as possible, do everything we can to get the doses available and to get them into people's arms."
To help get there, Biden has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to build community vaccination centers, with the goal of setting up 100 such centers in the first month, and more after that. In addition, to reach rural and urban areas, the plan will deploy mobile vaccination units too. No word on whether they'll play a catchy little ice-cream truck style jingle, but that should be looked into. Biden also plans to establish a public health jobs corps that would train 100,000 new public workers nationwide.
Rosie The Vaccinator Says 'We Can Do It'
For such efforts to work, Congress will need to fund them, which is why right after his inauguration Biden sent Congress a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, which includes $400 billion devoted to vaccines, testing, hiring a public health army, emergy paid leave, and help for schools.
Biden also directed federal agencies to make use of the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of vaccine-related supplies, equipment needed for testing, and personal protective equipment. That would require companies to give top priority to filling orders for all that stuff. The New York Times notes, however, that may be easier said than done, at least when it comes to materials needed by vaccine manufacturers:
The Trump administration had looked at all available manufacturing capacity domestically and globally, but there was little space left to secure more production.
That said, there's not much doubt that having a national plan will ensure better distribution of vaccines; and more vaccines are in the process of getting approval in the US.
Just as important, while vaccines are ramping up, the Biden plan also focuses on mitigating the spread of the virus through good old public health measures:
Masks: In addition to Wednesday's order that masks be worn in all federal buildings, Biden added an EO Thursday mandating masks for pretty much any form of transportation the federal government has the power to regulate, including in airports and on planes, on intercity buses and trains, ferries, and probably skateboards engaged in interstate transport. In addition, international travelers will have to show proof that they've had a recent negative coronavirus test, and will be required to quarantine after they arrive in the US (the regulations on how that would be monitored, though, have yet to be written).
Testing: Biden ordered the creation of a pandemic testing board that will finally develop a national testing strategy, something that was never actually developed under the president who preceded Biden. In particular, the board will look at bottlenecks in testing process and make recommendations to fix 'em.
Safe schools and workplaces: At long last, OSHA will be freed to develop guidelines for workplace safety. Real requirements, and not just the horrifyingly watered-down "if possible" crap the CDC was forced to provide after outbreaks at meatpacking plants last year. The CDC and HHS have also been ordered to develop new, science-based guidelines for reopening schools safely, with the goal of getting most K-12 schools opened within the first 100 days, but only if it's safe.
Fixing the Data Fuckery: Remember when the government told the nation's hospitals they had to stop sending their COVID-19 data to the CDC, and send it to HHS instead, and it completely fucked coronavirus data gathering? The data collection job was then shunted back to CDC, but the whole thing is still a mess. The Biden administration wants that fixed, with data collection being regularized and expanded, including stats by race and ethnicity. And the data also has to be transparent and available to the public and researchers alike.
Health Equity: As previously announced, Biden ordered the establishment of a health equity task force, to be chaired by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor of public health at Yale. The panel will examine and make recommendations to address racial and geographic health disparities. This is a big fucking deal, since communities of color have been hit much harder by the pandemic than Anglos, and frontline workers are primarily Black and Hispanic.
So that's a hell of a lot of work in one day. Now the challenge will be to actually get it funded and out to America. And to find ways to get people to wear masks and not be idiots, regardless of whether they think the pandemic is real.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.