President Joe Biden’s battle plan to beat Covid-19 is “spot on,” but restoring Americans’ trust in “science-based leadership” won’t be easy after four years of Donald Trump, public health experts said Thursday.
“The single most important thing the Biden administration needs to do to fight the pandemic is communicate honestly and openly with the American people about what needs to be done,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “The constant obfuscation and misinformation from the Trump administration, all the ‘this is a hoax’ stuff, that killed our pandemic response.”
Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer and senior vice president at Northwell Health, said in an email: “The plan put forward by President Biden and his team of experts is spot on. It is based on the recommendations of leading scientific and health care experts and should have been the plan all along.”
The experts weighed in as Biden, on the first full day of his presidency, signed 10 executive orders aimed at, among other things, boosting vaccine production and distribution and mandating masks in airports and on airplanes, trains and maritime vessels.
As of Thursday afternoon, 24.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 had been reported in the United States, with 407,384 deaths, according to the latest NBC News statistics. Both are world-leading figures.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it is going to take months to get it turned around,” Biden said, warning that the country is likely to top 500,000 deaths next month. “But let me be equally clear: We will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic.”
Biden’s 198-page strategy to end the pandemic was boiled down to seven key points.
Polly Price, a professor of law and public health at Emory University, said three points in particular — increasing Covid-19 testing, using the Defense Production Act to boost the supply of personal protective equipment and injecting billions of dollars and technical aid from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into vaccine distribution — will be music to the ears of state and local governments.
“State officials and public health experts have begged for these three actions in particular,” Price said in an email.
Biden’s team said the Trump administration left the job of getting vaccination shots into Americans’ arms up to state and local governments, which has led to distribution problems. “What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeffrey Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 coordinator, said Thursday on a call with reporters.
Price said that an executive order alone won’t solve the problem and that “adequate funding and technical assistance from CDC vaccination programs will be needed in most states to improve distribution” — especially if Biden is to meet his ambitious goal of giving 100 million vaccination shots in 100 days, which would be a huge jump from the 17.5 million shots administered since the vaccines became available Dec. 14.
A far heavier lift, Price said, will be Biden’s goal of establishing “mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors.”
“The White House task force under President Trump issued weekly reports to states, urging mask mandates and enhanced social distancing,” Price said. “These advisories were ignored in numerous instances, probably because of inconsistent messaging from the President and sidelining of the CDC in favor of what seemed a ‘politically’ run task force from the White House. Restoring trust in CDC guidance and a scientific-based leadership role will be tough.”
Trump was branded as the world’s biggest spreader of coronavirus misinformation last year by researchers at the Cornell Alliance for Science. They found that nearly 38 percent of the “misinformation conversation” began with Trump’s doing things like promoting unproven miracle cures for Covid-19, downplaying the coronavirus danger or claiming with zero evidence that the pandemic was a Democratic Party hoax aimed at derailing his presidency.
Trump also hobbled the drive to get Americans to don masks by refusing to wear one regularly at public events, even after he caught the virus himself.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top epidemiologist, who survived a White House attempt to undermine him, said Thursday that Biden appears to be cut from a different cloth.
“One of the new things about this administration is that, if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Just say you don’t know the answer.”
Dr. Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said Biden’s plan “offers hope for a systematic and scientific approach to mitigating the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic and is a welcome change.”
“The plan focuses on hitting critical needs for a strong public health response, such as a universal mandate for masking,” Khan said. “There is good data that there is no harm or risk from wearing a mask and there is great benefit.”
Still, she cautioned, “while the plan outlines the critical issues, it lacks a clear action plan on how to accomplish these things.”
“But, for the first time in four years, the plan offers a commitment to trust science, review available evidence and promote equity and access to health care,” she said.