U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled his national strategy for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, while public health experts said that restoring people’s trust in science-based leadership may not be that easy.
“Our national strategy is comprehensive, it’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial, and it’s detailed,” said Biden at the White House on his first full day in office.
Biden signed several orders Thursday including improving supply chains for the pandemic, keeping workers safe, ensuring equitable response, promoting safe travel, and expanding treatment for COVID-19.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear — we will get through this,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been at the top of Biden’s agenda since his first day in office. His inauguration on Wednesday came at a time when the country reported more than 24.6 million COVID-19 cases and over 400,000 deaths.
The United States registered a record daily count of 4,383 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, and currently the country averages about 194,000 daily cases and 3,000 deaths, according to the data updated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.
According to a model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the country is projected to see more than 566,000 COVID-19-related deaths by May 1.
Taking into account multiple scenarios based on masking mandates, vaccine distribution and other behavioral changes, the model predicts that deaths in the United States will not start leveling off until early March.
On Thursday, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said his “best-case scenario” is getting 85 percent of Americans vaccinated by the end of summer.
“If we get 70 percent to 85 percent of the country vaccinated, let’s say by the middle of the summer, I believe by the time we get to the fall, we will be approaching a degree of normality,” Fauci said during his first appearance at the White House briefing room in the Biden administration.
HARD TO REBUILD TRUST
With the absence of a national strategy under the Donald Trump administration, states and cities were largely left on their own in battling the pandemic while political polarization and a rejection of science have stymied the U.S. ability to control the pandemic, health experts said.
“The single most important thing the Biden administration needs to do to fight the pandemic is communicate honestly and openly with the American people about what needs to be done,” NBC News quoted Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, as saying.
“The constant obfuscation and misinformation from the Trump administration, all the ‘this is a hoax’ stuff, that killed our pandemic response,” he said.
As mass immunization is viewed as a truly effective way out of the health crisis, Biden’s team said that the former administration left the job of offering vaccinations to Americans to state and local governments, leading to distribution problems.
Biden’s national vaccination campaign aims to administer 100 million doses of two-stage coronavirus vaccines in his first 100 days, a big jump compared with the 17.5 million shots administered since the vaccines became available on Dec. 14.
Things are going to get worse before getting better, said Biden, who signed, among others, the executive order of “100 Days Masking Challenge,” which requires masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by federal employees and contractors.
Nonetheless, establishing mask mandates nationwide may be a heavier lift, said Polly Price, a professor of law and public health at Emory University.
“The White House task force under President Trump issued weekly reports to states, urging mask mandates and enhanced social distancing,” Price told NBC News. “These advisories were ignored in numerous instances, probably because of inconsistent messaging from the president and sideline of the CDC in favor of what seemed a ‘politically’ run task force from the White House.”
“Restoring trust in CDC guideline and a scientific-based leadership will be tough,” she added.
A year into the pandemic, mask-wearing, which public health experts say is among the most effective means of curbing the spread of COVID-19, has been a divisive issue among Americans.
As of Jan. 19, a total of 37 U.S. state governments required people to wear face coverings in public to curb the spread of COVID-19. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also have mask orders in place.