COVID-19

Biden prioritizes ambitious pandemic response plan

Kimberly Adams Nov 30, 2020
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President-elect Joe Biden listens to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris make a statement at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on Nov. 16, 2020. Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Biden prioritizes ambitious pandemic response plan

Kimberly Adams Nov 30, 2020
Heard on:
President-elect Joe Biden listens to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris make a statement at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on Nov. 16, 2020. Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images
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With COVID-19 cases continuing to raging out of control, the incoming Biden-Harris administration has laid out an ambitious pandemic response plan.

President-elect Joe Biden’s team now has access to transition resources from the federal government, allowing it to begin laying the groundwork for a variety of new pandemic initiatives. What is it going to take to implement them?

According to Diane Heith, professor of government and politics at St. John’s University, there’s a lot Biden can do from day one.

“Because so much of it is really about coordination and changing the communication and the messaging around the COVID response,” Heith said.

The Biden-Harris team has already started to work on the messaging part, holding meetings, press conferences and panels with health care workers. Tom Frieden, a physician and former director of the Centers for Disease Control, said another thing the Biden team can do right away is just create and communicate a plan.

“We still lack a clear national plan for what to do about coronavirus,” Frieden said. “And that involves standardizing some of the actions across the country and providing a framework for state and local innovation.”

Frieden expects that work will start right away once Biden takes office, through a series of executive orders “on everything from interstate travel to how data can be reported and provided openly so that everyone can see it.”

Frieden is now president of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative focused on preventing epidemics. He said that for smaller initiatives, like setting up task forces and data coordination, “there are usually small amounts of money in different accounts that can be ‘scraped up,’ as is said, and used, but it’s nothing close to what’s needed.”

And the federal government’s power to address every aspect of the pandemic is limited.

“Most of the direct actions are going to have to take place at the state and local level,” said Joel Zinberg, a physician and a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “And I think President-elect Biden recognizes that, when he said there’s not going to be a national shutdown, that this is something that has to be done in every community differently.”

Even at the federal level, Biden will need Congress on board to fund proposals like doubling the number of drive-thru testing sites and creating a “public health jobs corps.”

“The simple way of looking at this is that anything on Biden’s list that requires funding requires Congress,” said Laura Blessing, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. “There are some slight nuances to that, of course, [because] there are different piles and piles of money in certain federal agencies. But, basically, if you’re going to appropriate money for it, you need Congress.”

Who controls that branch of government? That’s still being determined.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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