Biden charts ambitious new plan to turn around pandemic

More than 237,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

November 8, 2020, 12:54 PM

As the nation heads into its darkest period yet on the pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden said he plans to designate several public health and government experts to chart a new path -- a move that signals he is ready to impose drastic new steps on Day 1 of taking office.

His initial plan calls for doubling the number of testing sites and investing in rapid at-home tests. To do this, he would create a new “pandemic testing board” modeled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s war production board established in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor to ramp up production of tanks and planes.

He also says he wants a “nationwide pandemic dashboard” that will let Americans monitor virus transmission in their zip code – work that’s currently being done at the local level but is often difficult to find and decipher. His plan also calls to mobilize at least 100,000 Americans to help with contact tracing and protecting at-risk populations, along with a separate task force focused on racial and ethnic disparities.

Biden’s work comes as COVID-19 surges across the U.S. in both cases and deaths, including at nursing homes in communities where transmission is high. Schools remained shuttered in parts of the nation and public health officials are warning of sharp increases as people stay indoors with the colder weather.

“Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” Biden declared in his first speech as president-elect on Saturday, adding that “we cannot repair the economy” until then.

“On Monday I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisors to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint that will start on January the 20, 2021,” he said. “That plan will be built on bedrock science.”

PHOTO: Masked and unmasked fans walk down a path during the second round of the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston, Texas, Nov. 6, 2020.
Masked and unmasked fans walk down a path during the second round of the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston, Texas, Nov. 6, 2020.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Biden Deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the new COVID task force would be co-chaired by Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general under President Barack Obama who was criticized by the National Rifle Association for insisting gun violence is a public health issue. He was asked to step down as surgeon general by President Donald Trump.

David Kessler, who led the Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s and sought tougher regulations on tobacco, would also lead.

According to The New York Times, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University professor, would also help to oversee the 12-person panel.

Another first step is to strike down Trump’s plans to leave the World Health Organization next year. The White House last summer accused the international organization of failing in its handling of COVID-19. This summer, Biden tweeted that “on my first day as President, I will rejoin the @WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”

Also on the table is a discussion on how to encourage more Americans to wear a cloth mask. Trump’s own adviser, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said the pandemic could be under control in under 10 weeks if every American wore a mask.

But a nationwide mask mandate is widely seen as difficult to enforce, unless Biden were to tie federal assistance to local health ordinances, which could be seen as extreme. In his plan released online, Biden’s transition team said he will continue to call on every governor to make them mandatory in their states and encourage local authorities to enforce it.

A Biden transition official told reporters this weekend, "There have been no transition decisions made and we look forward to working with Congress to implement Biden-Harris policies.”

Other issues will include how to improve regular access to testing, particularly among people who don’t have symptoms but could still be infectious.

Kessler, who has been advising Biden since spring on COVID-19, has sharply criticized the Trump administration’s handling of COVID testing, which Biden has said is critical.

“Testing is the springboard we need to help get our economy safely up and running again,” Biden said earlier this year.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who has repeatedly clashed with Trump, said he wants to see universal mask wearing because Americans wouldn’t accept another lockdown. He also has warned the country is on track to reach half a million deaths by February due to the virus unless the country does more.

As of Sunday, 237,123 Americans have died from COVID-19.

PHOTO: Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, stands as President Donald Trump exits during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, March, 26, 2020.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, stands as President Donald Trump exits during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, March, 26, 2020.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

"We’ve got to work together as a country. We’ve all got to be on the same page," Fauci said in an interview shortly before the election with Rolling Stone editor Jeff Goodell.

Fauci has been a member of Trump’s White House coronavirus task force but says he rarely speaks to the president and has been denied by the White House at times from televised interviews. Included in Biden’s plan is a specific reference to government scientists like Fauci, saying they will be allowed to speak “publicly uncensored.”

Transition experts and former government officials say time is of the essence when it comes to organizing a new administration that can hit the ground running on Jan. 20. As with past administrations, Biden has assembled “agency review teams” that will spearhead work on health care, immigration, education and economic policy.

ABC News' Molly Nagle and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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