Celebrations over, Biden releases plan to curb COVID cases

  • by Liz Highleyman, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday November 11, 2020
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People gathered on Castro Street November 7 to celebrate the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the country's incoming president and vice president. Photo: Rick Gerharter
People gathered on Castro Street November 7 to celebrate the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the country's incoming president and vice president. Photo: Rick Gerharter

While street parties celebrating President-elect Joe Biden's win have ended and Donald Trump's refusing to concede the November 3 election, the incoming team has hit the ground running, releasing a plan to combat the nation's burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, November 9, the transition team for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced the members of its COVID-19 task force, which will include three Bay Area experts. The same day, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a coronavirus vaccine front-runner appears more effective than expected.

During brief remarks from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden implored all Americans to wear face coverings. COVID infections have surged in recent weeks, with the country averaging 100,000 cases a day. In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed on Tuesday announced a rollback of some activities, including indoor dining, due to a spike in local cases.

Despite not taking office until January 20, Biden is using his bully pulpit during the transition to address the health crisis and the economic fallout from it.

"President-elect Biden believes that the federal government must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders, and caregivers essential to help us face this challenge, those who are most vulnerable to health and economic impacts, and our broader communities — not to blame others or bail out corporations," according to the plan, available here.

The United States has seen more than 10 million cases of coronavirus infection and more than 244,000 deaths to date. Cases are rising nationwide, including in the Bay Area, with several states reporting that their hospital capacity is becoming overwhelmed.

The Biden-Harris plan promises to listen to science, ensure that public health decisions are informed by experts, and "promote trust, transparency, common purpose, and accountability in our government."

Specific proposals include doubling the number of drive-through coronavirus test sites, establishing a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to undertake culturally competent contact tracing, and using the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of personal protective equipment. Biden said he would reverse Trump's withdrawal from the World Health Organization on his first day in office.

In a departure from the Trump administration's approach, the Biden-Harris team promises to provide clear and consistent guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic. To date, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been vague and inconsistent, leading many to feel they have been unduly influenced by politics. On Tuesday, however, the CDC released new guidance on face coverings, stating for the first time that they protect the wearer as well as people around them. That's the message that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, has been hammering home for months.

"Social distancing is not a light switch. It is a dial," the Biden-Harris plan states. "President-elect Biden will direct the CDC to provide specific evidence-based guidance for how to turn the dial up or down relative to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in a community, including when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces; when to open or close schools, and what steps they need to take to make classrooms and facilities safe; appropriate restrictions on size of gatherings; [and] when to issue stay-at-home restrictions."

The Biden-Harris team also promises money to help schools and small businesses operate safely, as well as increased funding for state and local governments.

Although Biden has called on every American to wear a face covering when they are around people outside their household, and has asked governors and local officials to make mask use mandatory, he does not have the authority to issue a national mask mandate or a nationwide lockdown.

President-elect Joe Biden discusses his COVID-19 task force November 9. Photo: Courtesy ABC7 Chicago  

COVID task force
Biden's COVID-19 task force includes 13 people with expertise in public health, epidemiology, medicine, and public policy.

The roster includes former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. David Kessler, a professor of pediatrics at UCSF, and Dr. Robert Rodriguez, a professor of emergency medicine at UCSF. Task force member Dr. Eric Goosby, also a UCSF professor, was previously director of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, CEO of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation (a partnership with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation), and U.S. global AIDS coordinator under President Barack Obama.

On the same day the task force was named, Pfizer and the German biotechnology company BioNTech announced that their experimental coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective in reducing symptomatic COVID-19 in an interim analysis.

Although the first vaccine may receive emergency use authorization from the FDA by the end of the year, many hurdles remain. Millions of doses must be manufactured and distributed, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires ultra-cold refrigeration at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Health care workers and others at high risk for coronavirus exposure will be first in line for vaccination, followed by older people and other vulnerable individuals who are more likely to develop severe disease. The supply may be adequate to vaccinate the general public by next summer. The Biden-Harris team vows to guarantee that every American will get a vaccine for free.

"I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope," Biden said in a statement, referring to the vaccine news. "At the same time, it is also important to understand that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away. ... Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today's news is great news, but it doesn't change that fact."

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