In one of his first initiatives after the election – which continues to be disputed by the incumbent -- US President-elect Joe Biden set up a Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board.
There is little doubt that the US is facing a crisis. New cases are rising in at least 40 states, with more than 9.3 million total infections and more than 236,000 deaths. According to exit polls, 73% of Biden voters felt that this pandemic was the most serious issue facing the country.
Mr Biden has appointed David Kessler, Vivek Murthy, and Marcella Nunez-Smith as his lead advisers. His policy is outlined on his campaign website.
“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” said Mr Biden. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”
The first part of his plan is to fix Trump's test-and-tracing policy. He will make testing free and widely available. He plans to double the number of drive-through testing sites, invest in home tests and instant tests, set up a “Pandemic Testing Board” to produce and distribute tens of millions of tests, and hire 100,000 contact tracers.
He also plans to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of masks, face shields, and other PPE so that the national stockpiles are fully replenished.
He will provide expert advice on how to apply lockdowns, on the notion that “Social distancing is not a lightswitch; it is a dial.”
When vaccines are available, he will “invest US$25 billion in a vaccine manufacturing and distribution plan that will guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.”
And to protect older minority Americans he will “establish a Covid-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, as proposed by Senator Harris, to provide recommendations and oversight on disparities in the public health and economic response. At the end of this health crisis, it will transition to a permanent Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force.”
On the controversial issue of masks, Biden says that he wants “every American to wear a mask when they are around people outside their household”. This is not a Federal responsibility so he has called upon governors and local authorities to make it mandatory in each state.
Reaction to his initiatives was subdued. At the libertarian site Reason, Ronald Bailey was supportive but suspicious of the ability of Obama-era bureaucrats to deliver the goods. A former head of Planned Parenthood and public health expert, Leanna Wen, said in the Washington Post that Biden’s team of advisors was top-heavy with medicos. She suggested adding economists, businessmen, celebrities who had experienced Covid-19, religious leaders, and Republicans. Wesley J. Smith pointed out in National Review that Biden’s task force Ezekiel Emanuel, of the University of Pennsylvania. He reminded readers that Emanuel wrote not long ago that “living too long is also a loss” – a dangerous sentiment at a time when the elderly are at serious risk.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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