Here’s what Joe Biden says will change with COVID-19

The president-elect announced his plans. They feature broad expansions in testing, nationalized PPE purchases and increased mask mandates
Credit: (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
File photo: On Election Day, Nov. 3, former Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign event in Scranton, Pennsylvania

The election of Democrat Joe Biden as president is expected to result in major policy shifts across the national agenda, but perhaps the most dramatic changes will be in how the federal government responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden, who served as vice president while President Obama created the Affordable Care Act, said as much in statements he made Saturday night, after vote counts in Pennsylvania and Arizona elevated Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris to victory. And according to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat, these changes in the nation’s pandemic response will save lives.

“Now that the campaign is over — what is the people’s will? What is our mandate? I believe it is this: Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time,” Biden said in a letter posted to his campaign website, listing control of the virus, building prosperity, securing health care, rooting out systemic racism and racial injustice, saving the climate, restoring decency and protecting democracy.

“Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” he wrote. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control.”

Biden said the work would begin Monday, when he plans to name a team of scientists and other experts “to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint” set to start on Jan. 20, when he is slated to be sworn into office at noon. Highlights of the plan include broadly expanding the testing system and nationalizing the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment, as well as working with governors to implement mask mandates.

“That plan will be built on a bedrock of science. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern. I will spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around,” Biden wrote.

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President Donald Trump, a Republican, has been harshly criticized by the scientific community and health care experts for his tepid response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in more than 9.9 million diagnoses nationwide, including nearly 238,000 fatalities. In New Jersey, nearly 253,000 cases have been reported and as many as 16,400 deaths.

Since New Jersey’s first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in March, Murphy has repeatedly called on the federal government to do more to support state efforts to control the virus, like providing more funding, testing supplies and protective gear for frontline workers. On Saturday, Murphy congratulated the Biden-Harris team and said their election will lead to greater investments in regional infrastructure, support for the federal Affordable Care Act and advancing social justice, in addition to reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s health and economy.

“This week the United States elected a President who will lead with moral courage, personal conviction, and facts,” Murphy said. “It is no exaggeration to say that changing the way our country approaches this ongoing pandemic will save lives.”

The arrival of the coronavirus has also underscored the importance of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, health care experts note. The law — which Trump administration and Republicans in Congress fought to dismantle — enabled close to 800,000 additional New Jerseyans to obtain Medicaid and expanded coverage for millions more by protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions and improving access for people in need of mental health and addiction services, among other reforms.

When it comes to the pandemic, Biden’s campaign released “Joe and Kamala’s Plan to Beat COVID-19,” a seven-step strategy designed to get the virus under control so that schools and businesses can safely reopen. The plan promises to “listen to science,” ensure public health professionals are informing all decisions, and “restore trust, transparency, common purpose and accountability to our government.”

The steps include the following:

  1. Provide enough testing so that all Americans have access to “regular, reliable and free testing” by doubling the number of drive-through test sites and investing in new technology like home test kits. It also calls for creating a Pandemic Testing Board modeled on former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Product Board, to beef up test kit supply production in the U.S., and establishing a Public Health Job Corps to “mobilize at least 10,000” people from diverse backgrounds to assist with testing and contact tracing.
  2. Nationalize the process of purchasing, stockpiling and distributing personal protective equipment, or PPE, the masks, gowns and gloves that were in short supply at the start of the pandemic. Under Trump, some federal supplies were distributed but states and individual health care providers were largely left on their own to acquire them, often competing against each other. Biden’s plan also calls for full use of the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to force manufacturers to make critical items in short supply.
  3. Provide “clear, consistent, evidence-based national guidance” for communities to help navigate the pandemic, as well as resources for schools, small businesses and families to survive the economic impacts. Under the plan, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would draft guidelines to help communities determine when to reopen businesses and public spaces, including schools, and establish a renewable fund to help state and local governments avoid budget shortfalls. Biden would also call on Congress to provide additional funding for schools and small businesses to purchase PPE.
  4. Create a national strategy for “effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines,” which could be approved by the end of the year. Biden plans to invest $25 million in vaccine manufacturing and distribution to “guarantee it gets to every American, cost free.” Vaccine approval will be guided by science, all the clinical data will be made public, and regulatory experts will be allowed to speak publicly and appear before Congress.
  5. Protect older and other at-risk Americans by establishing a task force to propose ways to reduce disparities, as COVID-19 has taken an outsized toll on communities of color. This group will eventually transition to address disparities within other infectious diseases. The plan also calls for a national dashboard with real-time pandemic data by zip code, so that individuals can make informed decisions about what is safe.
  6. Biden also plans to restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, created under former President Barack Obama’s last term and dismantled by Trump in 2018. He will also fund additional positions for CDC disease detectives, including rebuilding the office in Beijing, China, one of several cut under Trump, and pledges to restore the nation’s relationship with the World Health Organization.
  7. Lastly, the plan calls for implementing “mask mandates nationwide” by working with governors and mayors and encouraging public participation. According to Biden, experts say that if 95% of Americans wore masks for the rest of November almost 70,000 lives would be saved.