Health Care

Biden inauguration marks shift in scattered COVID-19 response

On day one of his presidency, Joe Biden immediately set to work on confronting the coronavirus pandemic — an issue that is likely to define his first year in office — by signing several executive orders intended to mark a clean break with the policies of his predecessor.

Biden’s orders will require mask-wearing and physical distancing by employees on all federal property and urge Americans to follow suit for the next 100 days. He also stopped the process initiated by former President Trump of exiting the World Health Organization (WHO).

Trump was rarely seen wearing a mask and did much to politicize their use, and he blamed the WHO for the spread of the coronavirus.

Other orders signed by Biden established the White House COVID-19 Response Team and restored the National Security Council’s global health security directorate, which was ended by Trump.

Biden’s actions are aimed at restoring confidence in the U.S. response at home and abroad after a tumultuous 10 months of the pandemic. More than 400,000 people in the country have died of the disease, with millions more infected.

Additional executive orders related to the COVID-19 response are expected in the coming days.

“With the state of the nation today, there’s no time to waste,” Biden said from the Oval Office before signing several orders. “Some of the executive actions I’m signing today will help change the course of the COVID crisis.”

Biden’s decision to rejoin the WHO drew swift praise from public health experts.

“America is better off engaged with WHO,” tweeted Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. “It is critically important if we want to end this global pandemic.”

Trump ordered the U.S. to leave the WHO over the summer, arguing the organization responded too slowly to COVID-19 and went too easy on China, where the virus was first detected.

Experts at the time warned that leaving the WHO would have disastrous effects for the global response to COVID-19, in addition to handling future health threats.

Biden will also bring the U.S. into the WHO’s initiative known as COVAX, which aims to bring coronavirus vaccines to low-income countries. The Trump administration had declined to join the initiative.

Remarks made Wednesday by both Trump and Biden presented a sharp contrast of their responses to COVID-19, with the outgoing president focused on downplaying the pandemic while the incoming one vowed to be straight with the American people about the challenging road ahead.

As Trump departed the White House for the last time, he insisted COVID-19 cases would “skyrocket downward.” Hours later, Biden warned that things would become worse before getting better.

“My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we’re gonna need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter,” Biden said in his inauguration speech.

“We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned last week that a more contagious variant of COVID-19 could be the dominant strain in the U.S. by March, a development that would likely lead to more cases and deaths. The CDC urged increased compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing recommendations, public health measures that became highly politicized during the Trump era.

Biden aides indicated on Wednesday that additional actions on COVID-19 will be announced in the coming days. Before he took office, Biden’s team had released a plan that would increase testing, use the Defense Production Act to boost the manufacturing of masks and other critical supplies, speed up vaccination distribution and better respond to COVID-19 disparities in communities of color.

The U.S. vaccination campaign was slow out of the gate, but has picked up in recent weeks as states expand the categories of people who are eligible for shots. As of Tuesday, a little less than half of the 31 million doses that have been sent to states have been administered, according to the CDC.

Biden has vowed to vaccinate 100 million people in the first 100 days of his presidency, but supply constraints present complications.

“We have looked carefully and we are confident that we have enough vaccine for the 100 million doses over the next 100 days,” said incoming CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in an interview Sunday on CBS News.

“It will be a hefty lift, but we have it in us to do that,” she added.

Tags CDC Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden Pandemic Rochelle Walensky WHO

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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