US president-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday called for urgent action on the COVID-19 pandemic as he introduced a healthcare team that would be tested at every turn while striving to restore the nation to normalcy.
Biden laid out three COVID-19 priorities for his first 100 days in office: a call for all Americans to voluntarily mask up during those 100 days, a commitment to administer 100 million vaccines and a pledge to try to reopen a majority of the nation’s schools.
“I know that out of our collective pain, we will find our collective purpose: to control the pandemic, to save lives and to heal as a nation,” Biden said.
The president-elect also said he would use the power of the federal government to require people to wear masks in federal buildings and when traveling from state to state on planes, trains and buses.
Mostly that would codify policies already in place, but Biden said he would urge governors and mayors to impose similar requirements.
Topping the roster of Biden’s picks was secretary of health nominee Xavier Becerra, a Latino politician who rose from humble beginnings to serve in the US Congress and as California’s attorney general.
Others include a businessman renowned for his crisis management skills and a quartet of medical doctors, among them US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.
The usual feel-good affirmations that accompany such unveilings were overshadowed by urgency, with new cases of COVID-19 averaging more than 200,000 a day and deaths averaging above 2,200 daily, as the nation struggles with uncontrolled spread.
Vaccines are expected soon. Scientific advisers to the government are to meet today to make a recommendation on the first one, a Pfizer shot already being administered in the UK.
However, having an approved vaccine is one thing, and getting it into the arms of 330 million Americans something else altogether. On Tuesday, Biden warned that his team’s preliminary review of plans for vaccinations by US President Donald Trump’s administration has found shortcomings.
He also called on Congress to pass legislation to finance administration of vaccines, as they become more widely available next year. That would effectively close the loop, from lab to patient.
The rest of Biden’s extensive healthcare agenda, from expanding insurance coverage to negotiating prices for prescription drugs, is likely to hinge on how his administration performs in this first test of competence and credibility.
Becerra would be backed in the White House by businessman Jeff Zients, who is to assume the role of coronavirus response coordinator. Running complex, high-risk operations is his specialty.
Alongside Fauci, the other medical doctors selected include infectious disease specialist Rochelle Walensky to run the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Vivek Murthy as surgeon general; and Yale epidemiologist Marcella Nunez-Smith to head a working group to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments.
Participating by video, Fauci called Biden’s 100-day plan “bold, but doable, and essential to help the public avoid unnecessary risks and help us save lives.”
“The road ahead will not be easy. We have got a lot of hard and demanding work ahead,” he added.
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