POST 116. January 22, 2021. President Biden – “We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”

“Twelve minutes before noon on Wednesday, President Joe Biden was sworn into office as the nation’s 46th president. Seven hours later, the United States reported more than 4,409 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to data collected by the COVID-19 Tracking Project.

The Biden administration came into power with purpose and an extensive agenda to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but purpose and planning only gets you so far—particularly when the president’s team is only just now getting a clear picture of how badly the previous administration had managed the crisis.

“What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 czar, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”

“I think we have to level-set expectations,” added Tom Frieden, the former director for the Centers for Disease Control in the Obama administration. “There are lots of things that an incoming administration can do on Day One, including speaking honestly about the pandemic.”

The new administration is already behind, in part because the Trump administration was unprecedentedly hostile during the transition. The question now, however, is how Biden can get a handle on a raging pandemic when his team is already so far behind.

The task at hand is enormous. More than 400,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Every state, territory and the District of Columbia is in a state of emergency. The number of people infected with the virus who are now hospitalized is more than double the number reached during the spring and summer peaks…

More urgently, Biden and his team will have to handle the growing frustration among states over the lack of a comprehensive vaccine-distribution program that enables them to inoculate their residents quickly. They will have to find a way to get states more vaccines needed to meet Americans’ growing demand for the shot…

The former Trump administration built out the vaccine distribution process within the confines of Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to fast-track a novel COVID-19 vaccine. In the first few months of its existence, Operation Warp Speed focused on development—creating the country’s first effective mRNA vaccine and supporting companies’ clinical trials. The distribution strategizing came later. Developed by the military, the plan was to have the federal government, specifically the military officials within Operation Warp Speed, lead the logistics part of the vaccine delivery. The military would not actually touch the vaccine but would instead coordinate the effort from the Pentagon….

Part of the confusion among states is how the newest Trump administration federal guidelines on vaccine distribution have impacted the manufacturing process. The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Centers for Disease Control, recently released a new set of recommendations that allow states to hand out the vaccine more freely—to widen the population of who can receive the shot in the first wave. The federal government also said it would start to release doses it had originally held in reserve for second-shot dosing.

The recommendations almost worked too well—they ramped up demand significantly. Now, states say they don’t have enough doses.” (A)

NOVEMBER 9, 2020

“President-elect Biden’s transition team unveiled the members of his Covid-19 task force on Monday, a who’s-who of former government health officials, academics, and major figures in medicine.

The list includes Rick Bright, the former head of the vaccine-development agency BARDA ousted by the Trump administration in April; Atul Gawande, the surgeon, writer, and recently departed CEO of Haven, the joint JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health care venture; and Luciana Borio, a former Food and Drug Administration official and biodefense specialist.

Biden has cast the escalating Covid-19 crisis as a priority for his incoming administration. The task force, he said, would quickly consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address the racial disparities that have left communities of color harder hit than others by the pandemic.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement Monday. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”

As expected, the board’s three co-chairs are Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale physician and researcher; Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general; and David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner.

…the full list of task force members: David Kessler, co-chair, former FDA commissioner; Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair, Yale associate dean for health equity research; Vivek Murthy, co-chair, former surgeon general; Luciana Borio, former assistant FDA commissioner; Rick Bright, former BARDA director; Zeke Emanuel, former Obama administration health policy adviser; Atul Gawande, Brigham and Women’s hospital professor of surgery; Celine Gounder, NYU Grossman School of Medicine assistant professor; Dr. Julie Morita, former Chicago public health commissioner; Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; Loyce Pace, executive director of the Global Health Council; Dr. Robert Rodriguez, UCSF emergency medicine professor; Eric Goosby, former Ryan White Care Act director. (B)

“Joe Biden’s transition team found a culture of coronavirus skepticism within Donald Trump’s federal government as they prepared to take office, sources close to the Biden transition told CNN, with political appointees loyal to the President reflecting his dismissiveness of public health guidelines and sometimes mocking career employees for wearing masks.

The findings from Biden’s agency review teams are some of the earliest readouts from the Biden officials who were tasked with preparing for the new administration and signal one of the most apparent early changes that the incoming administration will make. They observed a federal bureaucracy devoid of clear leadership on the pandemic, the sources said…

CNN has previously reported that current and former administration officials said there was no one in the White House or the National Security Council whose singular focus was to coordinate the Covid response among the Cabinet and various agencies. Efforts to mandate masks among government employees and inside government offices were shot down by the White House as Trump worked to portray strength and assure the public that the situation was under control. Even after Trump himself tested positive for Covid-19 and had to be hospitalized, staff within the West Wing largely opted against the use of masks….”  (C)

“Mask-wearing represents one of three objectives Biden laid out in his speech, along with setting a goal of 100 million vaccine shots in the administration’s first 100 days and opening a majority of schools by the end of that time frame, a feat that he says will require more action by Congress.

Biden said the plan was developed with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will serve as Biden’s chief medical adviser on COVID-19 and will maintain his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci, who gave remarks by video, said that the plan is bold but doable and “essential to help the public avoid unnecessary risks, to help us save lives, reopen schools and businesses and to eventually beat the pandemic.”

Biden first announced key members of his health team on Monday, including his nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services Department…

Biden has also selected Jeff Zients, a veteran of the Obama administration, to be the White House coordinator of the coronavirus response.

Biden will nominate Dr. Vivek Murthy, a key coronavirus adviser to the president-elect, as surgeon general. Murthy was surgeon general during the Obama administration.

“The very best policies, and even the best vaccines and treatments, will not heal our nation unless we also overcome the fear, anxiety, anger and distrust that so many Americans are feeling right now,” Murthy said in his remarks…

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, has been tapped to lead a new task force aimed at reducing disparities in response, care and treatment….

Biden will also nominate Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” (D)

““One last myth that I want to dispel is a concern that I’ve heard from some people that this vaccine was developed too fast, right? So, even the name of the entity in government that was charged with trying to figure out how to get a vaccine quickly was called Operation Warp Speed, right?” Vivek Murthy, who Biden has tapped to be surgeon general, said in a call with U.S. faith leaders this week.

He assured them the vaccines are safe and effective and asked for help communicating that message.

“For some people, they heard and they said, ‘Why is this happening so fast? Are there corners being cut? Are there safety precautions that are not being taken?’” he said.

The vaccine push will now be led by David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who will serve as chief science officer of Biden’s “Covid Response.” He will replace Moncef Slaoui, one of the officials who led what the Trump administration had called “Operation Warp Speed.” Another, General Gustave Perna, will remain as chief operating officer.

“Warp Speed” will be folded in to Kessler’s portfolio, which will be broader than vaccine development, one official said.

Kessler’s top priorities as chief science officer are ensuring every American who wants to be vaccinated gets a shot, building out a significant antiviral program and building major, sustainable manufacturing capability, in part so that a vaccine for another pathogen can be produced quickly if the U.S. ever needs it again, one official familiar with the matter said. (E)

The National Strategy provides a roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century. It outlines an actionable plan across the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including twelve initial executive actions issued by President Biden on his first two days in office:

The National Strategy is organized around seven goals:

1. Restore trust with the American people.

2. Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.

3. Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, data, treatments,

health care workforce, and clear public health standards.

4. Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act.

5. Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers.

6. Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.

7. Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.

To execute on the National Strategy, the White House will establish a COVID-19 Response Office responsible for coordinating the pandemic response across all federal departments and agencies. Through implementation of the National Strategy, the United States will make immediate progress on the seven goals. To monitor outcomes, the National Strategy includes the creation of publicly accessible performance dashboards, establishing a data-driven, evidence-based approach to evaluating America’s progress in the fight against COVID-19 (G)

President Joe Biden’s first full day in office on Thursday focused on rolling out his national strategy to get the coronavirus pandemic under control and signing several executive actions, including ramping up vaccination supplies and requiring international travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to traveling to the US.

“Our national strategy is comprehensive, it’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial, and it’s detailed,” Biden said, speaking from the White House. He said the 198-page plan is posted on WhiteHouse.gov.

Biden’s plan starts with a national vaccination campaign in order to meet the President’s goal of administering 100 million shots, which is enough to cover 50 million Americans with vaccines that require two doses, in his first 100 days in office.

“We’re at Day 1,” Biden said.

He said the plan was developed with input from the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, among other advisers and experts. Fauci was at the event at the White House, along with Biden’s Covid czar Jeff Zients.

Biden said the American public would be “hearing a lot more from Dr. Fauci again, not from the President, but from the real genuine experts and scientists.”

Former President Donald Trump sidelined and undermined his own medical experts as the pandemic raged across the country.

“We’re going to make sure they work free from political interference and that they make decisions strictly based on science and health care alone, science and health alone, not what the political consequences are,” Biden said.

The day after being sworn-in, Biden signed at least 10 executive orders, memorandums and directives focused on tackling the pandemic, which, as of Thursday afternoon, has claimed the lives of more than 408,000 Americans and infected more than 24 million in the US.

Biden signed executive orders ramping up supplies for vaccination, testing and personal protective equipment and another boosting development of therapeutics to treat Covid-19. (H)

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