On his first full day in office, US President Joe Biden signed several executive orders and laid out his administration's plan for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, including an effort to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the following 100 days.
“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better," Biden frankly stated during the White House press conference on Thursday. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around."
He noted that case and death numbers are going to continue to rise until the new efforts begin to have an effect, estimating that the US' COVID-19 death toll will pass 500,000 in the next month.
'Help is On the Way'
However, Biden had a message: “help is on the way," holding up a 198-page guide to his administration's COVID-19 response plan.
Among the executive actions Biden signed were the reimbursement of states for using their national guard to help with COVID-19 relief efforts; a “full scale wartime effort” using the Defense Production Act to increase the volume of essential medical items being manufactured; and an order giving schools funding for the resources they need in order to safely reopen.
He said a major goal of his first 100 days in office is to get 100 million Americans vaccinated. “We will move heaven and earth” to do so, he said. The US population is 328 million.
Another goal of his first 100 days is a 100-day "mask up" challenge. Noting that medical experts have predicted Americans wearing masks could save 50,000 lives by April, Biden said he had ordered a mask mandate on federal property and that another order would soon follow for inter-state transit on buses, trains and aircraft.
“It’s a patriotic act,” Biden said about mask-wearing. ‘They’re the single best thing we can do … more important than the vaccines.”
New Federal Initiatives
Biden said he is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to start standing up the first federally-supported community vaccination centers, with the goal of standing up 100 such centers in the next month.
He also said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would launch a federal pharmacy program to send COVID-19 vaccines to local pharmacies by February 8, and that the Department of Health and Human Services would begin expanding the pool of medical professionals who can administer the vaccine in order to meet the nation’s needs.
Biden announced the creation of a federal COVID-19 liaison for each US state and the launching of a federal COVID-19 testing board, to ensure that plentiful testing for the infectious respiratory disease is made available where it’s needed.
Biden also announced the formation of a Health Equity Task Force to “ensure equality is at the core of every decision we make.” He said some of its duties will include fighting disinformation in local communities and addressing vaccine hesitancy among parts of the population.
Biden said that in the interest of restoring public trust, he would ensure that scientific and medical experts would “speak directly to you,” free from political interference and making decisions “based on science and health alone.”
Reversing Trump Policies
In his first two days in office, Biden has use the power of his executive office to reverse dozens of policies implemented by former US President Donald Trump, including ending the Keystone XL oil pipeline, adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and rejoining the World Health Organization. His COVID-19 program is also a repudiation of Trump's legacy, including his longstanding hostility to mask mandates and the way his administration handled relations with state governments during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the campaign trail, Biden firmly blamed Trump for the destructive scale of the pandemic in the US, which he noted on Thursday contains just 4% of the world's population but has suffered 25% of the world's COVID-19 cases and 20% of the world's deaths from the disease. According to data compiled by the New York Times, at least 24.6 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 and at least 408,000 have died, with 100,000 of those deaths occurring in just the last month.