Weekend Long Reads: Our National Strategy for Combating COVID-19

by Kevin Schofield 

It only took a year and a changeover in administrations, but the United States finally has a national strategy for combating COVID-19. On his second day in office, President Joe Biden unveiled the 117-page plan and seven accompanying executive orders to begin to move the plan forward.

The strategy is built around seven goals:

  1. Restore trust with the American people. 
  2. Mount a safe, effective and comprehensive vaccination campaign.
  3. Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, data, treatments, health care workforce, and clear public health standards.
  4. Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act.
  5. Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers. 
  6. Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.
  7. Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.

It’s an ambitious — and comprehensive — plan, and the strategy document is packed full of specific objectives that the federal government will try to accomplish. I won’t try to summarize everything that the Biden administration wants to do, but I will highlight some recurring themes.

Supplies: Biden has already signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act to allow government agencies to leverage the private sector to ramp up production of 12key kinds of supplies that the country doesn’t have enough of right now including masks,gloves, isolation gowns, test swabs,reagents, needles, and syringes.  They will also attempt to better coordinate distribution of supplies to states and local jurisdictions. FEMA will be naming a liaison for each of the 50 states to facilitate supply deliveries.

Vaccinations: The Biden administration will try to accelerate production of vaccines by placing coordinators on-site at manufacturing sites. It will also work closely with states on vaccine distribution, including giving states a clearer forecast of the dates and quantities they will receive, and cooperating with both governments and private industry on setting up large-scale vaccination sites.

Equity:Tthe strategy document stresses that hard-to-reach and high-risk populations will be prioritized, and that racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors will be considered in planning to ensure an equitable system. Interestingly, the plan explicitly calls for expanding access to high-quality healthcare through community health centers, and other community-based “safety net” institutions, to ensure that COVID prevention, treatment, testing, and vaccination programs reach everyone.

Expanding the healthcare workforce: The strategy recognizes that it isn’t just supplies that are critically limited in the COVID response: healthcare workers are too, and that shortage becomes even more critical as testing and vaccination programs expand. The Biden administration will create a new United States Public Health Workforce Program of new community-based workers to assist with testing, tracing and vaccination, and it will deploy federal workers to under-resourced areas of the country.

Masks: The Biden administration will push for masking mandates nationwide. Biden has already signed an Executive Order requiring masks on all federal property, and his administration will be pushing all 50 states and the U.S. territories to issue their own mandates (according to the document, the federal government is not empowered to issue an national mask mandate — the states must do that). 

Funding: President Biden will be asking Congress for a substantial amount of new funding for the COVID response: to beef up the FEMA response to support state and local governments; to relieve supply shortfalls; for distribution of supplies, materials and vaccines; for economic stabilization relief; and to support re-opening plans.

Re-opening: Biden wants a national plan that will re-open schools, businesses, and travel across the country. In particular he wants to re-open schools within 100 days, while protecting teachers and other school workers.

Information: The Biden administration wants to regain the public trust through increased transparency, better public health guidance, and a new Vaccination Ambassadors program. Doing so will also require increase data collection.

Manufacturing: The strategy calls for re-establishing a U.S. manufacturing base for supplies and vaccines.

Global re-engagement: The Biden administration has already announced that the United States will be re-joining the World Health Organization. It also intends on collaborating with international partners to ensure that poor countries get access to supplies and vaccines. And longer term, it will participate in the Global Health Security Agenda to help prevent (and plan better responses to) future pandemics.

This is an incredibly ambitious plan. The Biden administration won’t be able to accomplish all of it, and parts of it will go wrong along the way. But after a year of being told that COVID will magically go away one day and watching the Trump administration alternate between doing nothing and bungling its response, it’s nice to see that in a very short period of time the Biden administration is prioritizing the COVID response and has a decent understanding of what it will take to successfully get the virus under control.

The National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness

Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and the founder of Seattle City Council Insight, a website providing independent news and analysis of the Seattle City Council and City Hall. He also co-hosts the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast with Brian Callanan, and appears from time to time on Converge Media and KUOW’s Week in Review.

Featured image is attributed to Mike Maguire under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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