“For the past year, we couldn’t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination we needed, and we have seen the tragic cost of that failure,” Mr. Biden said in remarks from the White House, unveiling his 198-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.
He said as many as 500,000 Americans will have died by February. “It’s going to take months for us to turn things around,” he said.
“Our national strategy is comprehensive – it’s based on science, not politics; it’s based on truth, not denial,” Mr. Biden said. He also promised to restore public trust, in part by having scientists and public health experts speak to the public. “That’s why you’ll be hearing a lot more from Dr. Fauci again, not from the president,” he said, adding that the experts will be “free from political interference.”
While the president’s executive orders can help accomplish some of the plan’s proposals, the majority will require new funding from Congress and will be included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue package that Mr. Biden hopes legislators will approve.
Ten new orders
The 10 new pandemic-related orders Biden signed on Jan. 21 follow two he signed on his first day in office.
One establishes a COVID-19 Response Office responsible for coordinating the pandemic response across all federal departments and agencies and also reestablishes the White House Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was disabled by the Trump administration.
The other order requires masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors.
Among the new orders will be directives that:
- Require individuals to also wear masks in airports and planes, and when using other modes of public transportation including trains, boats, and intercity buses, and also require international travelers to produce proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test prior to entry and to quarantine after entry.
- Federal agencies use all powers, including the Defense Production Act, to accelerate manufacturing and delivery of supplies such as N95 masks, gowns, gloves, swabs, reagents, pipette tips, rapid test kits, and nitrocellulose material for rapid antigen tests, and all equipment and material needed to accelerate manufacture, delivery, and administration of COVID-19 vaccine.
- Create a Pandemic Testing Board to expand supply and access, to promote more surge capacity, and to ensure equitable access to tests.
- Facilitate discovery, development, and trials of potential COVID-19 treatments, as well as expand access to programs that can meet the long-term health needs of those recovering from the disease.
- Facilitate more and better data sharing that will allow businesses, schools, hospitals, and individuals to make real-time decisions based on spread in their community.
- Direct the Education and Health & Human Services departments to provide schools and child-care operations guidance on how to reopen and operate safely.
- Direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to immediately release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe and to enforce health and safety requirements.