President-elect Joe Biden said “more people may die” without cooperation from the Trump administration on COVID vaccine distribution.
WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden will arrive at the White House Jan. 20 at a critical juncture in America’s battle against COVID-19. In the weeks before he takes office, the winter season is expected to further the virus’ unrelenting spread as the U.S. holds out hope a vaccine will soon eradicate a pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and decimated the economy.
The president-elect has vowed to implement a swift and aggressive national approach to combating COVID-19 by implementing a federal mask mandate and working with governors to impose similar restrictions at a local level, expanding testing and contact tracing efforts and using a more evidence-based approach in issuing guidance.
But his legacy will partly hinge on the daunting test of controlling a spiraling pandemic that has arrested the country for nearly a year and repairing the economic damage it has wrought.
Biden aides insist a clear federal strategy will unify a deeply divided nation despite the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate with his transition team,which doctors and health experts warn could undercut any vaccine progress made in the interim.In response, the former vice president has sharpened his attacks against Trump, who has yet to concede the election, declaring Tuesday that “more people may die if we don’t coordinate.”
The incoming administration’s pandemic response takes on new urgency as the country reported more than 150,000 new cases on a daily basis over the past week, raising alarm bells about at-capacity hospitals, personal protection equipment shortages and more lockdowns.In total, the U.S. has recorded more than 11.3 million cases and more than 248,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation model projects more than 372,000 deaths from COVID-19 by the time Biden takes office in January.
Jake Sullivan, a senior Biden policy adviser, said the president-elect’s plan is not defined by overly restrictive measures and instead focuses on national guidance that can be tailored to local situations.
“It is not about shutting the whole economy down, but it’s about actually taking the kinds of steps that can help you avoid full shutdown,” Sullivan said. “That is the best way to get broad-based buy-in across the country at both the state and the local level.”
More: There are now two promising potential COVID vaccines. This is what we know about them.
More: Biden picks for top White House jobs draw contrast with Trump not only on policy but also style
Pfizer says its potential COVID-19 vaccine was 95% effective in final results. It will submit the candidate for approval from the FDA within days.
The president-elect may have to navigate the choppy waters of a Senate still in Republican control, pending the outcome of two runoff races in Georgia in January, and the sharp political divisions after his victory over President Donald Trump.
Biden has urged Congress to pass a coronavirus relief package, pointing to the Heroes Act passed by House Democrats earlier this year.
House Democrats passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act in May and a slimmed-down $2.2 trillion version of it in October, both of which included funding for state and local governments, another round of stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits. Negotiations broke down this fall after Republicans balked at the price tag while Democrats have refused to agree to a smaller package.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have signaled they want to pass legislation before the end of the year but neither party appears any closer to a deal.
“The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control,” Biden said during remarks in Delaware on Monday. “It’s a conscious decision. It’s a choice that we make.”
Biden’s coronavirus blueprint includes implementing a federal mask mandate, which would extend to federal buildings and interstate transportation, and convincing governors to do the same at a local level. He also wants to expand free testing, create a job corps of 100,000 people to contact trace, work toward keeping schools open and create a racial disparities task force for communities that have been hit the hardest.
Wearing a mask, which scientists say can play a key role in curbing the spread of the virus, took on a political dimension after Trump resisted wearing one and mocked others for doing so in the early months of the pandemic. While a measure to contain the pandemic, others have viewed it as an affront to their personal liberties.
“Does anybody understand why a governor would turn this into a political thing?”
Biden asked as he held up a mask during a press conference Monday.
Though Republicans have largely resisted calls for mandatory face coverings, a growing number of GOP governors have reversed course as the outbreak continues to escalate in nearly every state. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice have all enacted at least a partial mask mandate over the past week. On Tuesday Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a close Trump ally, buckled under pressure as her state saw nearly 2,000 deaths from COVID-19 and ordered residents to wear a mask when in public indoor spaces.
More: Republican leaders beg ‘knuckleheads’ to stay safe as COVID cases soar in rural, red states
More: What we know about face masks has changed. Here’s what experts say and which states mandate masks
The president-elect is scheduled to virtually meet with the National Governors Association’s executive committee Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware, according to the Biden campaign. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is among the governors who plan to speak with Biden, according to his spokesman.
The push for a bipartisan cooperation marks a contrast with Trump, who has repeatedly slammed Democratic governors for imposing coronavirus restrictions and held massive campaign rallies in several states struggling to contain the virus, despite local limits on crowd size.
Sullivan said the COVID-19 advisory board has begun reaching out to the patchwork of public health departments in recent weeks and plans to directly engage governors and mayors in the coming days about convergence around a national approach.
“We’re not blind to the politics and the different perspectives people have, but we are heartened by what seems to be a growing understanding across the board about the severity of this surge, and the need to take measures to respond to it,” Sullivan said. “Finding that sweet spot is something that president-elect will be engaging directly with governors and others on in the near future.”
A dangerous delay
But as the Biden transition team continues to work toward a more unified approach, health experts – including his own and some already in government – warn the country could suffer dire consequences if the rise in cases continues while the incoming administration is further delayed from coordinating with federal agencies.
Trump continues to challenge the results of the election in federal court while the General Services Administration has yet to initiate a formal transition that would allow the Biden team to work directly with federal agencies and plan for vaccine distribution.
Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Wednesday plans to submit a request “within days” to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use approval of a vaccine they say has shown to be 95% effective in mass testing. Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna said Monday its vaccine candidate appears to be 94.5% effective, although it did not give a timeline of when it plans to seek FDA approval.
A new study released Tuesday found a late start for Biden’s transition team could hamper the president-elect’s ability to make key appointments for COVID-19 and national security-related positions. The Center for Presidential Transition at the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service examined how quickly confirmations happened for President George W. Bush, whose transition did not begin until he was declared the winner on Dec. 13, 2000, and President Barack Obama. Obama was able to confirm twice as many senior officials as Bush during the first 100 days of their presidencies.
“Trump is allowing the pandemic to spread to the point where the Biden administration will have no choice but to implement aggressive tactics,” said Jack Chow, a U.S. ambassador for global HIV/AIDS during the George W. Bush administration and a former World Health Organization assistant director general. “It’s like being a fireman who sees the fire burning in one room and, if nothing is done to intervene, the whole house will be consumed.”
Biden has criticized the Trump administration for downplaying the virus and undermining public health experts’ advice, such as wearing a mask. The White House became one of the most prominent virus hot spots after Trump was hospitalized after his COVID-19 diagnosis. Several aides have since tested positive for coronavirus in at least three outbreaks at the White House.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced on Wednesday that he is reissuing a mask order with three new provisions. (Nov. 11)
A group of the nation’s top doctors sent a letter to the White House Tuesday urging the Trump administration to begin sharing COVID-19 information with the Biden transition team in order to “save countless lives.”
The letter, signed by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, said details of the Strategic National Stockpile, the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed and plans for vaccine and therapeutics distribution needed to be shared “as quickly as possible to ensure that there is continuity in strategic planning so that there is no lapse in our ability to care for our patients.”
Kavita Patel, a former health policy adviser in the Obama White House, said there’s a lot of “frustration” among some in government who want to help the Biden team but fear losing their jobs.
“They’re going to be starting with such a massive deficit of information. They’re getting bits and pieces,” she said of the transition effort. “They don’t even understand the status of some of these important programs.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told the USA TODAY editorial board on Wednesday that he’s had no formal discussions with the Biden campaign but emphasized the importance of transitions.
“Transitions are really important and they’re important because you don’t want to miss a step,” said Fauci, who noted he has been part of five transitions between the six administrations he’s served.
Fauci said he hasn’t been formally told that speaking with the Biden team is forbidden but he said “this is a very sensitive period.”
Asked whether he could speak to incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, who led the Obama administration’s Ebola response, if he called, Fauci said: “I believe that the Biden people, including Ron Klain, understand that and don’t want to put me in a compromised position.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci compared the transition of power to a relay race when describing its importance.
Biden has acknowledged a lack of cooperation could hamstring efforts to vaccinate more than 300 million people once he takes office. His COVID task force, composed of mostly doctors, has expressed frustration about the lack of data needed to even begin that process.
The group has requested details about data on the total number of PPE available to medical professionals, details on where existing supplies are stored and how to prevent state and hospital systems from again descending into bidding wars. Biden’s team has also asked the Trump administration for terms of vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical companies, including logistics.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s distribution plan is publicly available and state plans are published online.
He also said Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who is co-leading the federal vaccinate initiative, had “confirmed preparedness to ship vaccine doses to every zip code in America” within 24 hours of an emergency use authorization by the FDA.
Sullivan acknowledged the challenge of filling in the gaps in the Trump administration’s response effort, but said Biden’s transition team has been preparing for how to tackle it since before the election.
“Obviously, it’s a challenge to take over a response effort that suffers enormous gaps, in some places from outright negligence and in others from political interference,” he said. “But the transition team that began pre-election has worked through what it would take to fill the gaps that exist, to pull together into a more coherent whole the various pieces that are working and lift up the things that are going OK like in the vaccine space.”
More: COVID-19 infections are soaring. Lockdowns could be coming. A list of restrictions in your state.
More: Joe Biden names 9 top White House appointees, including Rep. Cedric Richmond and campaign manager O’Malley Dillon
While the Biden administration has several hurdles to overcome on Inauguration Day, health experts contend that establishing a cohesive national framework and establishing what a successful strategy looks like could relieve some of the bottleneck.
Patel said broader use of the Defense Production Act, a wartime authority allowing the president to direct industry to produce critical equipment, will help address some of the PPE shortages cropping up across the country. Biden has pledged to invoke the DPA once he takes office.
She also said appointing an individual to a communications role solely dedicated to the pandemic response – much like the Obama administration did with the Affordable Health Care Act – could streamline the messaging.
But perhaps one of the biggest challenges will be regaining the trust in government that has been eroded by missteps in the pandemic response over the last year, Chow said.
“Quite frankly, Trump brought into being the very American carnage that he spoke about at his inauguration,” Chow said. “Carnage brought about by the virus and that has been willfully ignored.”
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/11/19/bidens-covid-19-plan-face-hurdles-coronavirus-pandemic-rages/6281450002/