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November 9, 2020

How Biden plans to fight the coronavirus—starting on day one

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    President-elect Joe Biden during a victory speech on Saturday said he'd take action to fight America's coronavirus epidemic on his first day in office, and his advisers in recent days have detailed some of the steps Biden's taking now to prepare—as well as some of the actions Biden intends to take once he's inaugurated as the nation's next president.

    US new coronavirus cases surpass 10M; deaths and hospitalizations grow

    The comments from Biden and his advisors come amid a continuing surge in new coronavirus cases and related deaths and hospitalizations in the United States. On Friday, the United States for the third consecutive day set a new global record for the highest number of new coronavirus cases reported in a single day, at more than 132,700 cases, the New York Times reports. As of Monday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 10,060,700 cases of the novel coronavirus since America's epidemic began, up from about 9,698,100 cases reported as of Friday morning.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 111,175—which is up by 59% when compared with the average from two weeks ago. At least 17 states reported record-high single-day increases in their numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases on Friday, and 27 states in total reported record-high single-day increases in their numbers of new coronavirus cases over the past week the Times reports.

    As of Monday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico and 44 states that have had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    Meanwhile, the Times' data shows that, as of Monday morning, the daily average of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in Guam, which had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission.

    The U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and six states that have had comparatively low case rates were seeing those rates "going up" as of Monday morning, according to the Times. Those states are California, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

    The number of reported deaths tied to the novel coronavirus also is rising at a quicker pace, with the United States last week reporting more than 1,000 new deaths tied to the virus for four consecutive days for the first time since August. As of Monday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 238,031 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 235,331 deaths reported as of Friday morning.

    Hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, also are rising. According to data from The Atlantic's Covid Tracking Project, 56,768 Americans were hospitalized for Covid-19 on Thursday. That number had climbed by 14% over the previous seven days and is nearing the United Sates' record number of nearly 60,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations, which the country reported during the summer, NPR's "Shots" reports.

    Biden says addressing America's coronavirus epidemic is his top priority

    Throughout his campaign, Biden said addressing America's coronavirus epidemic would be one his top priorities if elected president. Biden reiterated that message during his victory speech on Saturday, saying, "Our work begins with getting Covid under control. … I will spare no effort, none, or any commitment to turn around this pandemic."

    Both Biden and his advisers in recent days have detailed how Biden is preparing to address the epidemic, as well as some actions Biden plans to take on his first day in office.

    For instance, Biden on Saturday announced that he plans to name a coronavirus task force on Monday. The task force will be comprised of "leading scientists and experts" and will be responsible for crafting recommendations "built on a bedrock of science, constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern," Biden said.

    According to the Times, David Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner under the administrations of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; , Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under former President Barack Obama's administration; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, a physician, researcher, and professor at Yale University, will serve as co-chairs of the 12-member task force.

    A person close to Biden's transition planning reportedly told the Times that Biden's announcement of the task force kicked off a week in which Biden plans to focus on health care and the epidemic as he prepares to start building his future administration.

    People familiar with Biden's plans have told various media outlets that Biden intends to quickly establish a national strategy for combatting the coronavirus epidemic that will focus on bolstering U.S. medical supplies, coronavirus testing and contact tracing, and potentially targeted business closures. For example, the Times reports that sources have said Biden plans to appoint a "national supply chain commander" and establish a "pandemic testing board" on his first day in office.

    According to Biden's aides, the president-elect once in office also plans to use the president's authority to invoke the Defense Production Act to order businesses to boost stocks of necessary supplies.

    Further, Biden plans to press Congress to pass a new stimulus package by late January that's intended to help offset the economic effects of the country's coronavirus epidemic, Politico reports. According to Politico, Biden's aides said he would like Congress to pass a bill that guarantees sick leave for workers, covers the cost of coronavirus testing and treatments for uninsured and under-insured Americans, and allocates billions of dollars in funding to help businesses and schools reopen safely, among other things.

    Although Biden has indicated he would like to implement a national mask mandate once he takes office, his advisers have determined that the president does not have the legal authority to do so, according to the Times. As such, Biden plans to try to increase mask wearing in other ways, including by requiring masks on all federal property and "all interstate transportation." Biden also plans to lean on state and local officials to implement mask mandates if they have not already done so, Politico reports.

    Hospital, insurer groups pledge to work with Biden on coronavirus, health care reform

    On Saturday, major trade groups representing hospitals and health insurers vowed to work with Biden and his future administration to tackle the coronavirus epidemic and reform the U.S. health care system.

    Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, in a statement said, "We both share the same top priority: fighting the battle against Covid-19. As we continue on the front lines in this fight, we will work as partners to protect our patients and communities, as well as support our brave health care workers."

    Further, Pollack added, "Our other priorities remain the same: advancing the transformation of health care, ensuring access to coverage, enhancing the quality of care, and making health care more affordable."

    Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, in a statement said, "There are many health care challenges that our nation must face together—from continuing to battle the Covid-19 crisis, to making health care and prescription drugs more affordable, to protecting patients from surprise medical bills, to ensuring stable coverage markets for those who need it most."

    And David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in a statement said, "The AAMC looks forward to working with President-elect Biden, the new administration, and the new Congress to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, safely reopen businesses and schools, and stabilize the economy" (New York Times, 11/8; New York Times [1], 11/9; Stone, "Shots," NPR, 11/6; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 11/9; Weinstock, Modern Healthcare, 11/7; Facher, STAT News, 11/7; Ollstein/Goldberg, Politico, 11/7; Nichols, Axios, 11/7; Goldmacher et al., New York Times, 11/6; New York Times [2], 11/9).

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