After announcing a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” on Thursday to “change the course of the pandemic,” President-elect Joe Biden on Friday provided more details on how his administration will address what he called the “dismal failure” of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, safely reopen schools by March, and ramp up surveillance to track where SARS-CoV-2 is moving and how it’s mutating.
“The more people we vaccinate and the faster we do it, the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us,” said Biden in an afternoon speech. Almost simultaneously, the president-elect revealed key members of his administration’s science team, many of whom will be central to the plan.
Much of the huge price tag for Biden’s pandemic plan would help people who are financially struggling because of COVID-19, offering $1400 checks, rent and food assistance, and expanded health care and unemployment benefits. But Biden also wants Congress to allocate $400 billion of the money to bolster the pandemic response, with $160 billion of that going toward mounting “a national vaccination program,” expanding diagnostic testing for COVID-19, and hiring 100,000 new community health workers—nearly tripling the 59,000 now doing the work. They would promote vaccination and trace contacts of newly infected people, but they are also intended to become a permanent fixture in the U.S. public health infrastructure.
“In terms of direct federal involvement in the lives of ordinary Americans, there has been nothing like this since FDR [former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] and the first 100 days of the New Deal,” says David Oshinsky, author of Polio: An American Story and a medical historian at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.
Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who is on the Biden transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board, says he is “strikingly surprised” that the recommendations he and the other 15 experts offered were heeded. “It’s the best effort I’ve seen by any administration, even dating back to the bioterrorism effort in 2001/2002,” says Osterholm, who has advised many presidents. “What we proposed, shared, and are concerned about is showing up in the plans. It wasn’t just a window dressing—and I have been involved with so many groups where it has been just that.” [Continue reading…]