BOSTON – As he begins his transition to the presidency, Joe Biden shifts from a bitter electoral contest to another more urgent fight: controlling the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the most powerful country in the world harder than any other.
The United States records an average of more than 100,000 infections a day and often breaks its records for daily cases. Hospitals in several states are running out of space and staff, and the death toll is skyrocketing.
Public health authorities warn that the country is entering its worst phase of the pandemic with the arrival of winter and the upcoming holiday season at the end of the year, which increase the risk of rapid infections as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with beloved.RELATED
“The next two months are going to be tough, tough,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department chair at the Yale School of Public Health. “We could see another 100,000 deaths by January.”
So far, the United States has registered more than 9.8 million infections and more than 237,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Biden announced that Dr. Vivek Murthy, former US Director of Public Health, and Dr. David Kessler, former Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, will serve as co-chairs of a coronavirus task force that is scheduled to launch Monday. .
The group will be tasked with taking the proposals Biden made during the campaign and turning them into an anti-virus plan that the new president can put in place when he takes office in January.
Biden campaigned that diagnostic tests would be free and widely accessible, as well as hiring thousands of healthcare workers for contact tracing programs and instructing the Centers for Disease Control to offer clear guidelines based on expert recommendations. , among other proposals.
As a Democratic candidate, Biden made mismanagement of the pandemic at the hands of President Donald Trump the central issue of his campaign. But much of Biden’s proposals will require congressional intervention, and he is sure to encounter difficulties in the divided houses of parliament.
“I am not presenting myself with the false promise of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch. But I do promise this: From day one, we will start by doing the right things, ”he said last month at a campaign rally.
Dr. Phillip Coule, medical director of the Augusta University Medical Center in Georgia, said he was confident the country could move past the political divisions that have complicated the response to the virus now that the elections are over.
“Now that we have passed the elections, let us handle this based on the science, and not the politics, of this disease and the pandemic,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said he believed that even the most convinced COVID-19 deniers would adopt a more conciliatory tone when they took on Trump’s electoral defeat.
“I think the political pressure to deny COVID is gone,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I think now you will see scientists speak without restriction. And I think the numbers are going to go up, and Americans will understand how serious it is. “
There are legal limits to what the president-elect can do before officially taking office, but he and his transition team must start preparing the work immediately, said Dr. Leana Wen, a professor of public health at George Washington University and former Baltimore health commissioner.
Establishing some consensus with state governments on national management, including a national order on the use of masks, should be a priority, he said. Opposition to the use of masks remains a thorny issue, especially in some of the worst affected states in the country.
“Each state acts quite autonomously on its measures, and we’ve already seen how that has turned out,” said Ko, the Yale expert. “This disease needs national and global responses.”
Overcoming months of mixed messages about the pandemic is another complex task Biden must undertake during his transition, said Angela Rasmussen, a virus researcher at Columbia University in New York.
“The last year of misinformation, confusion and unhinging people from the White House has destroyed the confidence that our government can handle this,” he said. “It will be crucial to start communicating that yes, this government will act governed by science.”
During his first remarks as president-elect, Biden said Saturday that his task force will create a plan “based on sound science” and “built on compassion, empathy and concern.”
His collaborators, meanwhile, have spent the days of the elections assuring the public that the government will be ready to respond to the pandemic.
“I think there is a sense of urgency in general,” Pete Buttigieg, a former candidate for the Democratic presidency and now on Biden’s transition team, told “Fox News Sunday.” “We know that each day brings more loss, more pain, and more danger to the American people, and so he’s not waiting until he’s in office to immediately rally people with the right kind of experience and plan to really listen to them.”
There is also hope in the medical community as a whole that a Biden administration will help restore US leadership on global public health challenges, including the development and distribution of a vaccine when it becomes available.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization, said she was more optimistic that a Biden administration would join Covax, a WHO-led project that aims to help bring vaccines to those most in need across the world. world, regardless of whether they live in rich or poor countries.
“Everyone recognizes that for a pandemic, you cannot have a country-to-country strategy. You need a global strategy, ”Swaminathan said.
But in Kansas, one of the states that has seen a significant spike in the virus in recent weeks, at least one hospital official was skeptical about what a new president could do to curb the pandemic in the United States.
“I think the damage is done,” said Kris Mathews, administrator of Decatur Health, a small hospital in the rural northwest of the state. “People have already decided how they react to this.”