While it’s both refreshing and exciting to see a president stand up and deliver the truth about COVID-19 and the extent of the actions necessary to end the pandemic, that truth, so long ignored at the White House, is daunting. Biden made it clear that the 400,000 dead is likely to be half a million within a month. He also pointed out the abject failure represented by a country that has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the COVID-19 cases and 20% of the deaths.
One of the key issues in the Biden plan may be more difficult than any medical feat: restoring trust in the federal government’s handling of the pandemic. After a year in which the policy has been to spread overly optimistic lies while leaving all real decisions up to the states, Biden actually means to take the helm. That means setting up a federal COVID-19 response team that coordinates policy across all agencies and replaces the National Security Council positions on dealing with pandemics that existed during the Obama administration.
In addition to the 100-day mask challenge and the new requirements on federal property, the orders establish requirements for masks on airplanes, trains, and other public transportation. This has been largely left up to transportation providers to this point, which has led to irregular enforcement and difficult in delivering penalties beyond banning passengers from further travel with a specific provider. The orders also do the following:
- Speed up both production and purchasing of vaccines, including using the Defense Production Act to order private firms to manufacture more vaccine. The same thing will be done for PPE and testing materials.
- Returns to a policy of regular public briefings on COVID-19, with those briefings to be led by scientific experts, not politicians or publicists.
- Establishes—finally—a federal public dashboard at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that will track cases, deaths, hospitalizations, testing, and make a consistent view of the data open to the public. From WorldOMeters to Johns Hopkins, there have been a lot of sites out there putting in a huge effort from the start, but this will be the official data down to the county level, including the hospitalization data that’s largely been hidden since the database was subcontracted to private firms mid-pandemic.
- Ends the policy of holding back vaccines specifically for a second dose—a policy that seems to have never actually been used in practice. This will also help give states more realistic estimates of when they will be receiving additional vaccine.
- Establishes a series of new mass vaccination centers using locations like convention centers and stadiums as well as smaller sites like pharmacies and clinics. To start with, the plan is targeting 100 such centers.
- Directs the federal government to those communities hit hardest by the pandemic and expedites free vaccines to those areas. Biden made a point of mentioning Black, Latino, and Native American communities as being among those who have lost people at much higher rates to COVID-19.
- Initiates a national educational campaign to inform Americans about the safety of vaccines and the necessity of getting almost everyone possible to get a jab in order to stop the pandemic.
- Instructs federal agencies to examine raising the pay for those who administer vaccines. Biden also spoke of recruiting everyone possible—lab techs, med students, nursing students, and even veterinarians—to deliver vaccines.
It’s very good to have responsible adults in charge once again. However, it’s also daunting to realize just how large a hole a year of neglect, misinformation, and disinformation has generated.