Biden to unveil national COVID strategy

CBS NEWS

Washington — President Joe Biden will sign 10 executive orders Thursday as part of his strategy to combat COVID-19, which has now claimed 400,000 American lives.

In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Biden’s COVID response coordinator Jeffrey Zients and members of the White House coronavirus response outlined the administration’s plan, which aims to vastly expand testing and vaccine availability, reopen the majority of schools in the next 100 days, and administer 100 million vaccine doses by the end of April. The two authorized vaccines require two injections to be effective. The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine requires a booster three weeks after the initial dose. Patients receiving the Moderna vaccine need a second dose after four weeks. 

But White House officials acknowledge that much of their plan will be impossible if Congress doesn’t pass the administration’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus proposal. White House advisers said Mr. Biden would use the Defense Production Act to speed vaccine and PPE production and reduce supply chain log jams. The national strategy calls for “prioritizing supplies that could cause bottlenecks” and potentially using the DPA to produce “glass vials, stoppers, syringes [and] needles.” This will ensure that drug manufacturers have all the supplies they need to keep packaging vaccine as it’s produced. The officials said their goal was to shore up stockpiles for the immediate need and any future pandemics. 

The administration will also establish a coronavirus testing board. 

The 21-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness aims to stand up a coordinated response while restoring “trust, accountability and a sense of common purpose in our response to the pandemic,” an unmistakable dig at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The Trump administration said it would vaccinate all Americans by late spring or early summer. It’s unclear if the Biden administration believes that goal is a feasible one.

“What we’re inheriting (from the Trump administration) is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Zients said.

To increase vaccine availability, the administration plans to erect vaccine centers at stadiums and community centers and mobilize federal personnel to help administer shots. This is a departure from the Trump administration’s approach, which sent vaccine doses to states and localities and largely left it to them to figure out distribution.

Under the Biden administration, vaccine doses will no longer be held back by the government, except for a small strategic reserve. The Trump administration, too, eventually adopted this very policy after the Biden transition team announced it would release all but a few doses. 

And on Wednesday, Mr. Biden signed an executive order mandating masks on federal property. 

The Biden administration is also putting a spotlight on racial and geographic disparities in healthcare. One of the president’s executive orders will establish a health equity task force, led by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, to compile data on the coronavirus’s disproportionate impact on minority communities.

President Trump’s surgeon general, Jerome Adams, has been asked to stay on to advise President Biden’s COVID-19 response. Zients said the administration will hold regular press briefings with government doctors including Anthony Fauci.

Executive orders

  1. Directing agencies to address vaccine and PPE supply shortfalls using all authorities including DPA;
  2. Directing OSHA to publish worker safety guidelines;
  3. Establishing a coronavirus testing board;
  4. Directing government scientists to identify new treatments for COVID-19;
  5. Directing HHS and CDC to provide clear guidance on safe school reopening;
  6. Directing agencies to expand data collection and reporting capacity;
  7. Establishing a health equity taskforce that focuses on racial/geographic health disparities; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith will be chair;
  8. Enhancing the collection, sharing and analysis of covid data including metrics by race and ethnicity;
  9. Require mask wearing on plane, trains and other forms of public transportation;
  10. Bolster clinical care facilities and long term care facilities.

Presidential memos

  1. Providing reimbursement to schools for PPE through FEMA relief fund;
  2. Directing FEMA to increase state reimbursement for National Guard from 75% to 100%.

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