President Joe Biden tried to revive the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on his first day in office on Wednesday, signing a series of executive orders intended to drive a country reeling from its worst public health crisis in over of a century.
Biden took office a day after the United States scored a total of 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began to spread widely last March. Immunization programs are far behind the goal of 20 million Americans immunized by the end of 2020.
“We are entering what could be the most difficult and deadly period of the virus and must put politics aside and finally face this pandemic as one nation,” Biden, a 78-year-old Democrat, said in his speech investiture.
The United States has reported nearly 200,000 new COVID-19 infections and 3,000 deaths per day on a seven-day moving average, according to Reuters data. More than 123,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday. More people died in the pandemic than in World War II.
The actions Biden signed on Wednesday included a mandate to mask federal property and federal employees, an order to create a new office in the White House to coordinate the response to the virus, and halt the World Organization’s withdrawal process from health (WHO), Aids said.
Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, began the process of pulling out the World Health Agency last year after accusing him of incompetence and bowing to Chinese pressure on the coronavirus.
Wednesday “begins a new day, a new and different approach to managing the country’s response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Jeff Zients, who leads the Biden pandemic team.
Fauci to lead US delegation to WHO
Symbolizing the new president’s commitment to a greater global role, infectious disease specialist Dr Anthony Fauci will lead a delegation to attend the WHO Executive Board meeting on Thursday, Zientes said.
Fauci will explain how the new administration intends to work with WHO on reforms, supporting the coronavirus response and promoting global health and public health security, he said, adding: “The withdrawal of America’s international arena has hampered progress in the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics. “
The Biden administration also intends to join the COVAX alliance, an initiative led by the WHO and two other groups that aims to ensure better access to COVID-19 vaccines for the poorest countries.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed US re-engagement with WHO, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, adding it was “absolutely essential” for a global response better coordinated against COVID-19.
“With vaccines being an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19, the accession and support of the United States to the COVAX facility will give momentum to efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries,” Dujarric said.
Face Mask Mandate
Biden’s first steps are intended to show a break with the Trump administration’s pandemic response, which critics have called ineffective and uncoordinated.
The federal mask mandate, in particular, is aimed at setting an example for state and local authorities as they attempt to contain the virus, Zientes said.
Scientists and public health experts have said face masks can help prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus, but face masks have become a flashpoint in American life, reflecting the country’s biggest political divide .
Trump, who contracted COVID-19 last fall in the northern hemisphere, rejected calls for a national mask warrant and held largely maskless campaign rallies. Biden’s campaign initially focused on virtual events before expanding to other masked and socially distant gatherings.
The federal mask’s tenure was hailed on Wednesday by the country’s main business lobby, US Chamber of Commerce president Suzanne Clark, calling it “a smart and practical approach.”
Meanwhile, Rochelle P. Walensky, who was sworn in on Wednesday as the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said she would launch a “comprehensive review of all existing guidelines related to COVID-19 ”.
“Better and healthier days lie ahead,” Walensky said in a statement. “But to get there, testing, surveillance and vaccination for COVID-19 must accelerate rapidly. We also must address the long-standing public health challenges of social and racial injustice and inequity, which have demanded action for far too long. “
Walensky, formerly an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, previously said one of his top priorities would be to improve the CDC’s communications with the public to restore trust. Under Trump, the agency had fallen into the shadows, undermined by an administration determined to downplay the coronavirus.
“America and the world rely on the science and leadership of the CDC,” Walensky said. “Just as it has done since the start of the pandemic, the CDC will continue to focus on what we know – and what more can be learned – about the virus to guide America.”