October 16, 2021

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Biden to sign 10 executive orders and invoke Defense Production Act to combat Covid pandemic – CNBC

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On his first full day in office, President Joe Biden released details Thursday of his sweeping plan to combat the coronavirus, announcing 10 executive orders and directing agencies to use wartime powers to require U.S. companies to make N95 masks, swabs and other equipment to fight the pandemic.

The president’s plan emphasizes ramping up testing for the coronavirus, accelerating the pace of vaccinations and providing more funding and direction to state and local officials. A key component of the plan is restoring trust with the American public. It also focuses on vaccinating more people, safely reopening schools, businesses and travel as well as slowing the spread of the virus.

“The National Strategy provides a roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century,” the plan says. “America has always risen to the challenge we face and we will do so now.”

Biden has taken office at a pivotal moment in the pandemic, many epidemiologists and U.S. health officials say. Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying every day of Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and newly discovered, more infectious strains are establishing footholds in the U.S., threatening to push the nation’s outbreak to even more deadly heights. The 23-page plan released Thursday expands on initiatives outlined last week and details how Biden plans to bring the outbreak under control and help the country recover.

President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office just hours after his inauguration on January 20, 2021 in Washington.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Hours after being sworn in as the 46th president on Wednesday, Biden signed more than a dozen executive actions in the Oval Office, including one requiring masks on federal property. He also plans to require masks on public transportation and negative Covid tests for anyone entering the country from overseas.

Biden will also use his executive powers to direct agencies to use the Defense Production Act to compel companies to prioritize manufacturing supplies that are necessary to the pandemic response. That could include protective equipment like masks, supplies needed to administer vaccines and testing supplies, the plan says. The Trump administration also invoked the act to make ventilators and other supplies.

The executive order, called “A Sustainable Public Health Supply Chain,” will also “direct the development of a new Pandemic Supply Chain Resilience Strategy” in an effort to bolster domestic manufacturing of critical supplies.

“It’s past time to fix America’s COVID-response supply shortage problems for good,” Biden’s plan says.

The administration will also seek to accelerate the rollout of vaccines by providing more funding to local and state officials, creating more vaccination sites and launching a national public education campaign. The plan says the administration will also “surge the health care workforce to support the vaccination effort,” which could include waiving some licensing requirements, for example.

Biden previously announced that his administration will aim to administer 100 million vaccine shots in its first 100 days. Jeff Zients, Biden’s coordinator for the Covid response, said on a conference call Wednesday evening that that’s just the beginning.

“We feel confident that we can meet our 100 million shots in 100 days,” Zients said. “But that is really just the start of where we need to be. We have to vaccinate as much of the U.S. population as possible to put this pandemic behind us, but we don’t have the infrastructure.”

Biden will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up 100 “community vaccination centers” in the next month as part of that effort. Similar to the Trump administration, Biden’s plan will also encourage states to move quickly to expand the groups eligible to receive the vaccine.

Yo bolster trust in the government’s response, the White House will establish a “COVID-19 Response Office,” charged with coordinating the pandemic response across federal agencies and establishing clear lines of communication down to local officials. The federal government will also conduct regular, expert-led briefings, the plan says.

Even as the vaccination effort gains speed, the plan calls for continued research into treatments for Covid, especially antivirals like Gilead‘s remdesivir. Through an executive order called “Improving and Expanding Access to Care and Treatment for COVID-19,” Biden will establish a new drug discovery and development program that emphasizes diversity in clinical trials.

In addition to new drugs, the plan emphasizes more testing. The president will establish a new pandemic testing board to discover new kinds of effective and rapid tests and scale them up quickly.

“To control the COVID-19 pandemic and safely reopen schools and businesses, America must have wide-spread testing,” the plan says.

Safely reopening schools and businesses is a key component of the plan. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to collect data on school reopenings and the spread of Covid, allowing for more scientific research into the risk of putting kids back in schools.

The new plan also calls on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to take on a larger role, setting clear guidance to employers on safe workplace practices and enforcement.

Biden will establish a “COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force” to ensure vaccines, treatments, masks and other resources reach everyone, including harder hit communities of color that have suffered from disproportionately high death rates in the U.S.

The plan does not lay out an estimated cost, but the administration proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package last week. The proposal, called the American Rescue Plan, includes $350 billion in state and local government aid, $170 billion for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, $50 billion toward Covid testing and $20 billion toward a national vaccine program.

“We need the money from Congress to fund the national strategy,” Zients said.

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