far, it has been easy for the new president to criticize the blatantly dismissive and incompetent handling of the worst public health crisis in 100 years. But as he sits at the Oval Office table with Americans dreaming of a vaccine and a return to work, family life and travel, his words are no longer enough.
Faced with this pressure, Biden appeared before the cameras Thursday and signed a series of decrees that show he is using his new power to fight the virus. Using presidential authority to step up the action, he issued a comprehensive new pandemic strategy and promised a real war effort to increase vaccine distribution, delivery, and testing. It allowed disguises on federal lands and interstate travel on trains, buses and planes. Biden plans to open new vaccination sites across the country and activate pharmacies in every county.
The idea of standing up here and talking about what you know, the evidence, the science – letting the science speak for itself is a somewhat liberating feeling, said the government’s chief infectious disease expert, who has often met former President Donald Trump’s fantastical alternate realities.
Fauci – who was suspended by Trump for spreading misinformation in uniform and politicized at Coronavirus Task Force briefings – said things were already much more professional.
You know, one of the new things about this policy is that if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess, he said.
It is striking that Mr. Biden’s approach, while welcome, consists in many cases of implementing measures that the previous administration could have already taken in a comprehensive manner in response to the pandemic.
The underlying guess is that an injection of expertise, money and size from the federal government could turn the tide in a crisis and ultimately provide the leadership and coordination that has been lacking in the last year since the U.S. was hit by the coronavirus.
Ending the threat of the virus, in turn, would be the best way to alleviate the economic disaster after an additional 900,000 people declared themselves unemployed for the first time last week, putting new pressure on Congress to quickly approve the $1.9 trillion Biden bailout package, despite Republican concerns about its cost.
On Friday, the president moved from the epidemiological challenge of the virus to the economic impact of the pandemic when he signed a new round of executive orders to help after an intense start to his tenure.
New political equation for pandemic
The growing response to the coronavirus has two parallel aspects: the desire to intensify the fight against this virus and the political efforts to tackle the crisis and its consequences in the first months of a new presidency.
So the president takes a double message – he warns that the season of death and disease will worsen, while making an optimistic prediction that the horror will not last forever.
It gets worse and worse until it gets better… …. The death toll is expected to reach 500,000 next month and will continue to rise, Biden said during a White House briefing on his new strategy.
We didn’t get into this mess overnight. It will take us months to reverse the situation. And let me be clear that we will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic.
But it’s one thing to strategize. The other thing for Biden and her new team of scientists, medical experts and logistics specialists is to quickly get the often lethargic federal government apparatus back on its feet. The White House will need the states, some of which have failed in all aspects of the pandemic, to respond to the new federal effort. And if Mr. Biden can change policy with a pen, he needs a huge and rapid investment from a strictly balanced Congress to make his plan work.
Then there are medical factors beyond his control.
While hospitalizations are declining as a sign of hope, many experts fear that this is only temporary relief and that new, more communicable versions of the virus could dash hopes of significant relief in the spring.
And even in countries where the pandemic is better controlled, there are some gaps in the timetable for resuming normal life as the coronavirus tries to eradicate it from societies.
One wonders, therefore, how much patience the American people, who have yet to receive clear answers from the government, will have when vaccines can be administered to people without risk and to people without medical training.
While the Biden administration is just beginning, the country is in castle purgatory, working and studying away from home in the midst of a ten-month separation from family members Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory could in turn call into question the credibility of his new policies and the willingness of millions of Americans to listen to his views.
The trump card of the indictment
Earlier, sources told CNN that the Trump administration, which disrupted the transition to a new White House did not leave a national immunization plan and that the new administration was effectively starting from scratch.
While this seems plausible given the previous government’s failure to reach its goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020, Fauci was less ambivalent on Thursday, saying that we are certainly not starting from scratch because there is a lot of activity in the distribution sector.
In any case, the announcement that they were starting from scratch also appeared to be an attempt to manage Biden’s expectations and give his team time to mount a new offensive against Covid with a virus still spreading unchecked.
The new president’s promise to introduce 100 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days, while a significant improvement, is small compared to the scale of the problem. Because the two vaccines currently approved for emergency use in the United States require two doses, the plan means that less than one-sixth of all Americans will be vaccinated by the end of April. Unless the supply of vaccines can be significantly increased – for example, through more aggressive use of the Defense Production Act by Biden – it may take many months to vaccinate all Americans.
The new president revealed at the end of his White House event on Thursday that the stakes are high enough in the pandemic operation when asked if he set the bar high enough.
When I announced it, you all said it was impossible. Come on, give me a break, the president said, betraying an annoyance with press counterintelligence that is likely to increase as his honeymoon approaches.
Nevertheless, many experts are convinced that the new administration will succeed through focused efforts on both vaccine supply and distribution.
It should be noted, for example, that Fauci, like other experts, seems to suggest that the biggest long-term concern is whether enough Americans will take the vaccine to ensure herd immunity – at a time when enough people are infected or vaccinated against Covid-19 to stop transmission of the virus.
If we can get 70 to 85 percent of the country vaccinated, let’s say by the end of the summer, by mid-summer, I think we’ll be approaching some level of normality by the fall, Fauci said.
If he is right, the American people will get their lives back and Biden can expect a serious boost in public confidence, political capital and an expert reputation that will be invaluable in gaining support for his ambitious legislative agenda and, ultimately, his place in history.