President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have released a seven-point plan to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
Here’s a quick rundown of the policies they plan to implement once they take office:
First and foremost, the administration plans to ramp up COVID-19 diagnostic testing across the U.S., according to the Biden-Harris Transition website. That means doubling the number of drive-through testing sites and establishing a Pandemic Testing Board, an organizing body that will direct the production and distribution of “tens of millions of tests.”
The administration also plans to invest in testing technologies that deliver instant results or can be taken at home, to further increase testing coverage. They also want to deploy a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps, a team of 100,000 individuals who will work with local organizations to “perform culturally competent approaches to contact tracing and protecting at-risk populations.”
Personal protective equipment
In addition to expanding America’s testing capacity, the incoming administration will boost the national supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) by invoking the Defense Production Act. The act, passed in 1950, allows the executive branch to “expedite and expand the supply of materials and services from the U.S. industrial base needed to promote the national defense,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency; in this case, the goal is to increase production of PPE at the federal level to relieve pressure on state and local stockpiles that have been severely depleted throughout the pandemic.
Long-term, the administration also plans to increase the nation’s ability to manufacture PPE in a pinch, “to ensure we are not dependent on other countries in a crisis.”
Guidance for communities
President-elect Biden will direct the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue clear guidance on how schools, businesses and households should navigate the pandemic going forward. For instance, the guidance should specify when schools and businesses should close as infection rates rise and fall in a given community, as well as when stay-at-home measures should be issued. Members of a new COVID-19 task force will help shape these policies and ensure they protect high-risk populations and address racial disparities in medical care, Stat News reported.
The guidance will also cover how public facilities, including schools, can be made as safe as possible; to help implement these changes, the Biden administration will call on Congress to pass an emergency package that provides extra funding to schools. An additional “restart package” will provide funds to business owners so they can implement the new safety measures; and another fund will be established for state and local governments whose budgets have become depleted during the pandemic. The state and local fund will be renewable.
Treatment and vaccine distribution
The Biden-Harris administration plans to invest $25 billion in the manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The ultimate goal is to guarantee the vaccine “gets to every American, cost-free.” Clinical data for any approved vaccine will be publicly released, according to the transition website, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration scientists will be allowed to present the data before Congress.
The administration also wants to prevent price gouging for approved COVID-19 treatments. Furthermore, “once we succeed in getting beyond this pandemic, we must ensure that the millions of Americans who suffer long-term side effects from COVID don’t face higher premiums or denial of health insurance because of this new pre-existing condition,” the website notes.
Protect those at high risk
A new COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force will address racial disparities in both public health and economic relief programs implemented during the pandemic. Once the pandemic ends, this task force will be made permanent under the name “Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force.”
Additionally, the Biden administration plans to create a Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard that tracks COVID-19 transmission in fine detail, so individuals can easily monitor infection rates within their zip codes.
Prepare for future pandemics
The White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, an advisory unit on pandemic preparedness established in the Obama-era, will be fully reinstated. Under the Trump administration, the unit was largely disbanded, but some team members were reassigned to other roles that included pandemic response, according to Reuters. In another reversal of Trump-era policy, the U.S. will also rejoin the World Health Organization.
The Predict program, which monitors for pathogens that could spill over from animal hosts to humans, will also be reinstated and more CDC scientists will be deployed to other countries “so we have eyes and ears on the ground.”
Nationwide mask mandates
Finally, the Biden-Harris administration wants a nationwide mask mandate and will call on state governors and local authorities to mandate mask-wearing. Under these mandates, every U.S. resident would be required to wear a face mask when around people outside their household.
If most U.S. residents adhere to the mandate, scientists estimate that tens of thousands of lives could be saved, Live Science previously reported. That said, experts aren’t sure how a federal mandate could be enforced, BuzzFeed News reported.
“Depending on the scope of a direct federal mask mandate, there may not be an existing federal mechanism suitable to enforce it,” the Congressional Research Service wrote in a legal analysis in August.
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Under President Donald Trump, states were tasked with implementing their own pandemic responses without centralized guidance from the federal government, according to BuzzFeed. The Biden-Harris administration aims to do just the opposite and support state-led efforts using a top-down approach.
Once in office, the administration must contend with steadily rising case counts and death tolls, while also earning back public trust and securing funding for its extensive plans.
“I hope that trust will come back from the general public — it’s going to be a really steep hill to climb,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, told BuzzFeed. “This is definitely not going to happen overnight even if the CDC, on night one, issues clear and consistent guidelines.”
But Rasmussen said she predicts that state and local officials will be eager for help from the federal government. “People everywhere are really tired of the pandemic,” she said.
Originally published on Live Science.
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