Taking office as the coronavirus pandemic death toll in the United States has surged past 400,000, President Joe Biden faces a herculean task. But he has a plan to bring the virus under control.
Biden on Thursday unveiled his administration’s “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness” at a White House ceremony, where he signed a number of executive orders setting it into motion.
“Let me be very clear: Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said, noting that the national death toll will likely top 500,000 next month. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight. It’s gonna take months for us to turn things around.”
“Let me be equally clear: We will get through this,” he said. “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.”
“We’re in a national emergency, and it’s time we treated it like one,” he said, urging people to go to the White House website to read the lengthy, comprehensive document.
Here, compiled from Globe wire service and major media reports, are some key takeaways from the plan, which lists seven major goals:
“The federal government should be the source of truth for the public to get clear, accessible, and scientifically accurate information about COVID-19,” the plan says.
It calls for, among other things, regular public briefings on COVID-19 to be led by scientific experts; tracking and public sharing of data on virus cases, testing, vaccinations and hospital admissions; and “world-class public education campaigns ... anchored by science and fact-based public health guidance.”
Biden has promised to “get 100 million COVID-19 shots into the arms of the American people” by his 100th day in office. The plan says the government will “spare no effort to ensure Americans can get vaccinated quickly, effectively, and equitably.”
It calls for increasing the production and purchasing of vaccines, including through the Defense Production Act — which allows the president to direct the manufacturing of critical goods during wartime — and ensuring availability of glass vials, syringes and other supplies necessary to vaccinate people.
It calls for accelerating vaccinations by ending a policy to hold back large numbers of doses and “encouraging states to move through the priority groups more quickly,” including by expanding access to frontline essential workers and people over the age of 65.
The plan also calls for setting up “as many venues as needed for people to be vaccinated,” ranging from federally run sites at stadiums and convention centers to doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and retail stores.
“The more people we vaccinate and the faster we do it, then the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us, the sooner we can build our economy back and build it back better and get back to our lives and to our loved ones,” Biden said at the White House ceremony. “We can do this. We can do this, if we stand together as fellow Americans and as the United States of America.”
STOPPING THE SPREAD
Until the population can be vaccinated, measures must be taken to stop the spread. “A comprehensive national public health effort to control the virus — even after the vaccination program ramps up — will be critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity,” the plan says, outlining a host of measures.
In addition to Biden’s challenge to all Americans to wear masks for 100 days and his order Wednesday requiring mask-wearing on federal property, he will issue a separate order to federal agencies to require masks on airplanes, trains and other public transportation.
The plan calls for a “clear, unified approach” to testing and a stepped-up effort.
“The federal government will expand the rapid testing supply and double test supplies and increase testing capacity. The Administration will also increase onshore test manufacturing, fill testing supply shortfalls, enhance laboratory capacity to conduct testing over the short- and long-term, and expand surveillance for hotspots and variants,” the plan says.
The plan also calls for helping schools to implement screening programs to help them reopen; and creating a program to develop new coronavirus treatments.
The plan calls for increasing emergency funding to states and orders the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states for certain costs tied to the pandemic, including supplies of protective equipment and for National Guard personnel supporting the pandemic response.
The plan directs federal agencies to “use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act” to close shortages in 12 categories of critical supplies needed for both virus testing and vaccine administration, including syringes, N95 masks, gloves, test swabs and other supplies.
“It’s past time to fix America’s COVID-response supply shortage problems for good,” the plan says.
SCHOOLS AND WORKERS
The plan calls for implementing a national strategy to reopen schools, hoping to meet Biden’s goal of having most K-8 schools open within his first 100 days in office.
It orders the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines to help schools reopen and to share best practices gleaned from schools across the nation.
It calls on Congress to provide at least $130 billion in additional aid to schools and $35 billion for colleges and universities. And it asks Congress to provide $25 billion to stabilize child care centers at risk of closing and $15 billion in child care aid for struggling families.
Workers would get updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions under the plan, and federal agencies are being asked to consider whether new federal emergency standards for workers, including around mask-wearing, are needed.
Businesses affected by the pandemic, particularly the smallest ones, “need additional support to adjust their physical spaces and purchase PPE and supplies. The United States will immediately work to prioritize funds under the recent COVID relief package to the companies hardest hit by COVID-19 and in compliance with public health restrictions, ensuring that small businesses have the funds they need to operate safely,” the plan says.
The plan calls for establishing an equity task force to address disparities in rates of infection, illness, and death across lines of race, ethnicity, and geography.
It also calls for federal agencies to expand data collection on high-risk populations and to use that information to track and evaluate the pandemic response among those populations.
Equity will be prioritized in the federal government’s pandemic response. ”The federal government will center equity in its COVID-19 response, providing PPE [personal protective equipment], tests, vaccines, therapeutics and other resources in a fair and transparent way,” the plan says.
PREPARING FOR FUTURE THREATS
The plan calls for increasing humanitarian aid and supporting other efforts to help fight COVID-19 around the world. Biden had already moved to re-engage with the World Health Organization on Tuesday, his first day in office.
“U.S. international engagement to combat COVID-19, promote health, and advance global health security is urgent to save lives, promote economic recovery, and develop resilience against future biological catastrophes,” the plan says. “The Biden-Harris Administration will restore America’s role in leading the world through global crises.”
The plan also calls for Congress to set up a new National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics to prevent, detect and respond to future biological threats.
Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.