Biden to push masks, vaccines, school reopenings in COVID-19 plan

US president-elect announces picks for key health roles and urges Congress to provide more funding for vaccines.

US President-elect Joe Biden set out COVID-19 goals for his first 100 days in office [Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters]

United States President-elect Joe Biden outlined his top goals for addressing the coronavirus pandemic in the first 100 days of his presidency as he introduced his nominees for key health positions in his administration.

Speaking from his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, President-elect Biden said his top goals, developed with US infectious disease scientist Dr Anthony Fauci, involve distributing vaccines, reopening schools and requiring mask-wearing “where possible”.

Biden announced he will pick California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be secretary of health and designated former Obama Economic Adviser Jeff Zients as the White House coronavirus coordinator.

“We did not get into this mess quickly. We’re not going to get out of it quickly. It’s going to take some time. But I’m absolutely convinced in 100 days we can change the course of the disease,” Biden said.

Reiterating a pledge made in his campaign for the presidency, Biden said he would impose a nationwide mandate requiring people to wear masks in federal buildings, on federal lands and during interstate travel. Biden said he would further ask the American public to voluntarily wear masks for 100 days.

“As a new president, I’m going to speak directly to the American people. See what I’m saying now: ‘We need your help. Wear a mask for just 100 days’.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr Anthony Fauci will be appointed Biden’s chief medical adviser [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Biden wants to see 100 million vaccine doses delivered to Americans within the first 100 days of his administration, a crucial period of time considered vital to the success of a new presidency.

He will emphasise getting US public schools reopened by providing federal funding for fittings and equipment to keep students and teachers safe.

Biden said his team’s “initial review” of plans in place under the Trump administration shows additional funding from Congress will be necessary for vaccine distribution.

“Without urgent action by this Congress this month to put sufficient resources into vaccine distribution and manufacturing … there’s a real chance that, after an early round of vaccinations, the effort will slow and stall,” Biden said.

Biden said he was “encouraged” by signs of bipartisan agreement in the US Congress on a new $908bn round of COVID-19 funding and urged Republican and Democratic leaders to conclude work on a bill before the end of the year.

New coronavirus cases have surged in the US in recent weeks, with more than 200,000 new cases reported in a single day for the first time last week. Hospitalisations and deaths have also risen. On Monday, 102,148 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. More than 285,000 people have died from the disease in the US, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, by far the highest death toll in the world.

In addition to Becerra and Zients, Biden said he would name Dr Vivek Murthy to be US Surgeon General, Dr Rochelle Walensky to be director of the Centers for Disease Control, and Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith to chair a COVID-19 equity task force. Fauci will become chief medical adviser to the president.

“This is my core COVID health care team,” Biden said, adding he would be adding “more leaders to oversee vaccine distribution, supply-chain testing and other key functions”.

Trump claims vaccine win

Biden’s announcement came on the same day that President Donald Trump claimed victory in the race to develop vaccines against the virus.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order on vaccine distribution during an ‘Operation Warp Speed’ meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2020. [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

“We are exceedingly proud that both Pfizer and Moderna have announced that their vaccines are approximately 95-percent effective, which is a number that nobody expected to be able to get to,” Trump said, adding that millions of doses would be available this month once the Food and Drug Administration gives its approval.

Pfizer’s vaccine is already being distributed in the United Kingdom and could be recommended for use in the US as soon as this week.

“We’ll get it distributed very quickly. We’ll have that all set and hundreds of millions more will quickly follow. Every American who wants the vaccine will be able to get the vaccine,” Trump said.

If necessary to ensure distribution, Trump said he would use the Defense Production Act to order manufacture of vaccines and needed supplies. The 1950 wartime law allows the president to command production of materials.

Trump spoke at a White House event that did not include Biden transition officials. Biden defeated Trump in the November 3 election.

Source: Al Jazeera