Joe Biden's 'wartime' Covid-19 plan includes more mask-wearing, vaccination, scientific data and help for schools
The national strategy includes restoring public trust as well as increasing supplies of PPE, testing materials and vaccines through the Defense Production Act
President Joe Biden has put America on a wartime footing against the coronavirus, revealing an ambitious plan to tackle the pandemic. He emphasized that the national strategy is comprehensive and is “driven by science, data, and public health, not politics.”
“Our national plan launches a full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages by ramping up production and protective equipment, syringes, needles, you name it. And when I say wartime, people look at me like wartime?...4,00,000 Americans have died. That’s more than World War 2... this is a wartime undertaking,” said Biden. The federal government emphasized that it will launch an “unprecedented public campaign that builds trust around vaccination and communicates the importance of maintaining public health measures” such as wearing face masks, physical distancing, testing, and contact tracing even as people receive safe and effective vaccinations.
What are the goals?
Expanding masking and testing: The President has issued an executive order, directing compliance with guidance by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on masking and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors. Additionally, another executive order instructs applicable agencies to take immediate action to require mask-wearing on many airplanes, trains, and certain other forms of public transportation in the US.
International travelers must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test before coming to the US, and quarantine on arrival, reads the “national strategy for the Covid-19 response and pandemic preparedness".
A Covid-19 pandemic testing board will be established to oversee the implementation of a “clear, unified approach” to testing. The federal government will expand the rapid testing supply and double test supplies and increase testing capacity. School screening testing programs to help schools reopen will be supported. A US public health workforce program of new community-based workers will assist with testing, tracing and vaccination.
Mount a safe and effective vaccination campaign: The President has developed a plan for expanding vaccine manufacturing and purchasing coronavirus vaccine doses for the US population by leveraging contract authorities, including the Defense Production Act; deploying onsite support to monitor contract manufacturing operations; and purchasing additional Food and Drug Administration or FDA-authorized vaccines to deliver as quickly as possible.
To expand the supply available to states, the Biden administration will end the policy of holding back significant levels of doses. Instead, it will hold back a small reserve and monitor supply to ensure that everyone receives the full regimen as recommended by the FDA. It intends to improve the allocation process by providing states and localities with clear, consistent projections to inform their planning.
“The federal government — in partnership with state and local governments — will create as many venues for vaccination as needed in communities and settings that people trust,” says the document. This includes, but is not limited to federally run community vaccination centers, in places like stadiums and conference centers, federally-supported state and locally operated vaccination sites in all 50 states and 14 territories, pharmacies and retail stores, federal facilities like Veterans Affairs hospitals, community health centers, rural health clinics, critical access hospitals, physician offices, health systems, urgent care centers, and mobile and on-site occupational clinics,” stated the report.
Scientists will be in charge of all decisions related to vaccine safety and efficacy. “Through expanded and existing systems, the CDC and FDA will ensure ongoing, real-time safety monitoring. Through it all, the administration will communicate clearly with the American public to continue to build trust around the vaccine and its benefits for individuals, their families, and communities,” informed the White House.
A public education campaign will be created to support vaccination programs, address vaccine hesitancy, help simplify the vaccination process for Americans, and educate the public on effective prevention measures.
Expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act: To make vaccines, tests, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and other critical supplies available for the duration of the pandemic, Biden has directed the use of all available legal authorities, including the Defense Production Act (DPA). Departments and agencies have been instructed to expand the availability of critical supplies, to increase stockpiles so that PPE is available to be used in the recommended safe manner, and to start to fill all supply shortfalls immediately.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response has been asked to fully reimburse states for the cost of National Guard personnel and emergency supplies, including emergency supplies like PPE for schools and child care providers.
Safely reopening schools: Biden has said he wants the majority of K-8 schools to open in his first 100 days. To help make that happen, an executive order requires the Departments of Education and HHS to guide safe reopening and operating.
The President has called on Congress to provide at least $130 billion in dedicated funding to schools, $350 billion in flexible state and local relief funds that will help districts avoid lay-offs and close budget gaps, and additional resources so that schools can safely reopen, including funds to implement screening testing.
Biden has also asked Congress to provide $25 billion in emergency stabilization to support hard-hit child care providers through the pandemic. These funds would help providers pay rent, utilities, and payroll, as well as cover pandemic-related costs like personal protective equipment, ventilation supplies, smaller group sizes, and changes to physical spaces that improve safety.
To support colleges through the pandemic, Biden has requested that Congress provide an additional $35 billion in emergency stabilization funds for higher education. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will also be directed to issue clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from Covid-19 exposure.
Restore the American people’s trust: An executive order to organize and mobilize the US government to provide a “unified and effective response” to combat Covid-19 has been issued. To execute the national strategy, the White House will establish a Covid-19 response office, responsible for coordinating the pandemic response. It will establish clear lines of communications with all governors, state public health officials and immunization managers, and local leaders.
The administration will work to counter misinformation and disinformation by ensuring that “Americans are obtaining science-based information.” It plans to track a range of performance measures and data, including cases, testing, vaccinations, and hospital admissions and will make real-time information available to the public and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels.
The federal government will conduct regular, expert-led, science-based public briefings and release regular reports on the state of the pandemic. The CDC will also develop clear, evidence-based, metric-driven public health guidance and effectively and frequently communicate and distribute guidance and updates to the Americans.
To ensure a data-driven response to Covid-19, and “future high consequence public health threats", an executive order outlines steps to enhance federal agencies’ collection, production sharing, and analysis of data for a speedier and equitable coronavirus response and recovery.
Protect those most at risk: A “health equity task force” has been created to address coronavirus-related health and social inequities and help coordinate an equitable pandemic response and recovery.
The federal government will deploy federal workers to assist with the Covid-19 response in under-resourced areas. The CDC will work with states to update their pandemic plans to incorporate guidance for high-risk populations and settings as necessary.
Agencies have been asked to expand their data infrastructure to increase collection and reporting of health data for high-risk populations while reaffirming data privacy. Using these data, the federal government will identify high-risk communities, track resource distribution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the response. The HHS will optimize data collection from public and private entities to increase the availability of data by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, and other demographic variables, as feasible.