While nine countries across the world are now COVID-19 free, the United States just surpassed 400,000 deaths as hospitals begin to reject patients with low chances of survival. Throughout his campaign, President Biden made it clear that addressing, solving, and recovering from the pandemic would be the administration’s top priority. The administration recently rolled out a 5-part plan intended to take a multi-faceted approach to put this pandemic behind us: (1) test-and-trace, (2) sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for all, (3) science-based treatments and vaccines, (4) steps to reopen safely and effectively, and (5) protecting those at high-risk.
Widespread testing is critical in providing health officials with the data necessary to contact trace infected individuals and identify potential hot spots. But despite the Trump administration’s claims in March that every American would be able to get a test, potentially infected individuals are struggling across the nation to get tested. Some are lucky and are able to find appointments, while others wait in miles-long lines at testing facilities.
President Biden has a three-prong plan intended to provide widespread access to tests. First, the administration will form a Pandemic Testing Board dedicated to providing reliable and free testing for all. Next, they will work with the board to double the number of drive-through testing sites to minimize the occurrence of long lines. Finally, Biden has pledged to build a national contact tracing workforce to help identify and address areas struggling with COVID-19. To implement this plan, the administration plans on hiring 100,000 Americans and equipping under-resourced public health departments with the necessary resources.
Sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for all
Ten months in, healthcare workers across the country are still being forced to buy their own PPE and reuse non-reusable masks. Hospitals and healthcare facilities have long understood the importance of PPE, but the surge in demand for masks, gloves, and other protective equipment has created a nationwide shortage.
The Biden administration has laid out an aggressive plan to get PPE in the hands of healthcare workers in record time. The President says he will utilize the Defense Production Action, historically used during war-times, to ensure the production and proper distribution of PPE. The administration intends to focus on resource-poor institutions serving disproportionately vulnerable populations that are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. President Biden also wants to use the federal government to ensure protections for nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers by guaranteeing their priority access to PPE, offering premium pay for workers putting themselves at risk, and providing emergency paid leave and free housing to infected healthcare workers that need to quarantine away from their families.
Science-based treatments and vaccines
The development and deployment of safe and effective vaccines was delayed by the previous administration's focus on disproven drugs, hence why the United States now has a massive stockpile of hydroxychloroquine. The infighting between the federal government and leading health officials stalled the effort to create nationwide access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Fortunately, with the development of effective vaccinations completed, the Biden administration proposed a plan for 100 million shots in 100 days.
Biden plans on coordinating a global approach to vaccine production and distribution to achieve the administration’s lofty goals and will establish an Emerging Infectious Disease Clinical Trial Network to pool resources and talent in an effort to create the most promising medications. Globally, the administration looks to help secure COVID-19 research from cyber threats and restore the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, a step Biden says is critical to coordinating a global pandemic response. While there is a significant focus on producing the necessary quantity of medications, the Biden administration always wants to ensure that everyone – not just the wealthy and well-connected – has access to the vaccine.
Steps to reopen safely and effectively
One of the largest controversies throughout the pandemic is centered around politicians’ decisions to open, or not open, businesses across the nation. Unfortunately, some states are reopening as quickly as possible, often without proper procedures or PPE in place. Moreover, the previous administration neglected to develop a unified plan for the country as each state made decisions on reopening for themselves.
The Biden administration wishes to push for reopening as quickly as possible, but understands that the country will not be able to solve its economic woes without a vigorous public health response. As the administration rolls out plans to test and vaccinate the country, it will use federal resources to minimize the pandemic’s economic effect. The multi-dimensional economic plans include: pricing guaranteed paid leave for infected workers, tasking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with enforcing rigorous safety standards for employers, equipping small businesses with “restart packages”, and facilitating the reopening of child care programs to get parents back to work.
Protecting those at high-risk
The fatality rate of COVID-19 varies greatly depending on the demographic of infected individuals, with the elderly and immunocompromised suffering from the lowest survival rates. The Biden administration thus finds it critically important to dedicate extra resources and attention to high-risk Americans.
Biden will provide evidence-based guidance in the form of a Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard so that at-risk Americans can gauge whether local transmission is actively occurring in their districts. This information will allow all Americans, particularly high-risk individuals, to make calculated decisions on what precautions to take. Additionally, the Biden administration will ensure that there is proper testing capacity at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, boost Social Security payments by $200, and increase SNAP, a program that helps low-income households put food on the table, benefits by 15%.
While the Biden administration has been praised by some for its aggressive approach, experts in varying fields have criticized the administration for being overly optimistic while overlooking underlying factors in regards to vaccine production and distribution. Dr. Joshua Cohen, an independent healthcare analyst and contributor at Forbes, contends that the Biden administration is not giving enough credit to the distrust that many minority communities have in the vaccine. Dr. Cohen explains, “to win the battle against COVID-19, the Biden Administration will need to accelerate vaccine production and distribution and, equally important, persuade many more people nationwide to change their behavior.”
Other health care experts are concerned about the proper distribution of the vaccine in the first place. Helen Chu, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Washington in Seattle, says, “more testing will help, but it won’t be enough if the tests don’t reach communities hit hardest by the virus.” Specifically, Dr. Chu argues that the administration needs to make at-home testing the norm so that “people who can’t get to testing sites because of work, childcare duties or a lack of transportation” still have access to reliable testing.
The largest concern in the professional field is concerns regarding the administration’s ability to ensure an equitable response to COVID-19. This is certainly an important note as COVID-19 has killed 2.8 times as many Hispanic and Black people, and 2.6 times as many Native American people, as white, non-Hispanic people. So far, the Biden administration has formed the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to ensure an equitable response. While it is not yet clear exactly how President Biden intends on ensuring an equitable response, Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the University of Texas at Austin, finds comfort in that the Biden plan seems “on target.” But as Rachel Hardeman, a reproductive health equity researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, points out, “COVID-19 has exacerbated and highlighted inequities and systemic racism in our systems that has been there in some way, shape or form for 400 years” and moving the needle on healthcare equity will take time.
With the Biden administration taking over the White House over two weeks ago, it remains to be seen how many parts of the President’s plan will play out. Republican spokespersons have already publicly opposed the new administration’s COVID-19 response, claiming that it is both overly ambitious and a death wish for the American economy. One thing is for certain: the new administration is taking aggressive action to put this pandemic past us, a notable difference from the previous administration’s anti-science rhetoric, delayed response, and insistence that the pandemic was simply “going to disappear.”