Twelve minutes before noon on Wednesday, President Joe Biden was sworn into office as the nation’s 46th president. Seven hours later, the United States reported more than 4,409 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to data collected by the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
The Biden administration came into power with purpose and an extensive agenda to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but purpose and planning only gets you so far—particularly when the president’s team is only just now getting a clear picture of how badly the previous administration had managed the crisis.
“What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 czar, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”
“I think we have to level-set expectations,” added Tom Frieden, the former director for the Centers for Disease Control in the Obama administration. “There are lots of things that an incoming administration can do on Day One, including speaking honestly about the pandemic.”
The new administration is already behind, in part because the Trump administration was unprecedentedly hostile during the transition. The question now, however, is how Biden can get a handle on a raging pandemic when his team is already so far behind.
The task at hand is enormous. More than 400,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Every state, territory and the District of Columbia is in a state of emergency. The number of people infected with the virus who are now hospitalized is more than double the number reached during the spring and summer peaks.
It’s not just the spread of the virus that the Biden team needs to tackle. Officials will also have to confront the disinformation and misinformation about the virus that has permeated all four corners of the country—where people still believe the virus is a hoax and that public health guidelines are too great of an imposition on their personal freedom to follow. But it’s unclear what power of persuasion the Biden administration will hold and if it will be enough to convince people to take the virus more seriously. [Continue reading…]