President-elect Joe Biden warned on Monday that the U.S. was facing a “dark winter” and many more deaths as the coronavirus continues to spread unabated.
“There’s a need for bold action to fight this pandemic. We’re still facing a very dark winter,” he said in somber remarks after meeting with his newly appointed coronavirus task force.
He called on all Americans to wear masks consistently as the best way to fight infection.
“It doesn’t matter your party. It doesn’t matter who you voted for,” he said. “We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask.”
His remarks came as Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, a physician, tested positive for Covid-19.
His transition team is seeking to fulfill a campaign promise to develop a dramatically different approach than President Donald Trump’s to contain the pandemic.The 13-member task force is composed largely of doctors and public health experts, who will work with Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the transition team to map out the public health and economic policies needed to curtail the virus.
The task force was announced only hours before positive preliminary test results were released of a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE indicating it prevented more than 90% of infections. The study involved tens of thousands of volunteers.
Eight months into the worst pandemic in a century, the preliminary results pave the way for the companies to seek an emergency-use authorization from regulators if further research shows the shot is also safe.
Biden, in a statement issued Monday, congratulated “the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough,” but warned that “the end of the battle against Covid-19 is still months away.”
Even if “some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Biden said. “Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year.”
From the onset of the pandemic, Biden said it was critical to listen to scientists and medical experts in charting a path out of the pandemic. He staked much of his presidential campaign on striking a contrast with Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the dangers of the virus even after being hospitalized when he contracted it.
The team will be led by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, and Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor of public health at Yale University. It will include about a dozen people, many of whom were already advising Biden and his staff throughout the campaign. Kessler and Murthy, in particular, were deeply involved in shaping the Biden campaign’s plans for responding to the virus, and they both regularly briefed the president-elect.
The transition and the task force face the difficult task of figuring out how to implement the policies Biden has proposed, including identifying supply chain issues for vaccine distribution and increased testing.
The announcement of the task force is the first step Biden and his team are taking to demonstrate the high value they will place in having experts and doctors guide their response.
“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. “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.”
The task force will also include Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Michael Osterlohm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Celine Gounder, a professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York University and Ezekiel Emanuel, a former Obama administration health adviser.
Other members are Luciana Borio, vice president at In-Q-Tel, Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Julie Morita, the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Loyce Pace, president of Global Health Council, Robert Rodriguez, a professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine, and Eric Goosby, an expert on infectious diseases and professor of medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 10 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 237,000 as daily case counts continue to rise and set records. Biden campaigned on shepherding an aggressive federal effort to contain the virus and renewed that promise on Saturday night.
While the task force and the transition team will be laying the groundwork for a muscular federal approach, the president-elect cannot officially implement policy changes until he’s in office.
During the campaign, Biden released a plan to combat the coronavirus that said his response would aim to restore trust in the government, create a cohesive national strategy, make treatments affordable, provide economic relief to those impacted by the virus and work with other countries to stop the virus’ spread.
His plans also call for a national masking mandate, though Biden has acknowledged that would be difficult to enforce outside federal property, as well as expanded access to testing and the development of a vaccine that would be provided for free.