President Joe Biden announced a national strategy to combat COVID-19 on Jan. 21. The announcement of the strategy included the signing of related executive orders and follows several Jan. 20 executive actions pertaining to the COVID-19 response, as well as additional actions related to immigration and racial equity [see related story].
The National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness is “a comprehensive plan that starts with restoring public trust and mounting an aggressive, safe, and effective vaccination campaign [and] continues with the steps we know that stop the spread like expanded masking, testing, and social distancing,” stated President Biden in a letter to the American public.
“It’s a plan where the federal government works with states, cities, Tribal communities, and private industry to increase supply and administer testing and the vaccines. ... Equity will also be central to our strategy so that the communities and people being disproportionately infected and killed by the pandemic receive the care they need and deserve,” President Biden added.
The 200-page strategy includes seven goals and related actions:
- Reorganize the COVID-19 response structure with science and equity-driven decision-making, regular public briefings, and public data sharing regarding the development of public health guidance.
- President Biden signed a Jan. 21 executive order requiring increased COVID-19 data collection, production, and sharing within federal agencies and directing federal agencies to work to increase innovation in U.S. health data and analytics.
- Mount a comprehensive vaccination campaign by increasing manufacturing and purchasing of safe and effective vaccines, addressing vaccine distribution, opening additional venues for vaccinations, addressing compensation for providers who administer vaccines, and focusing on vaccine access for hard-to-reach and high-risk populations.
- Expand masking, testing, data, treatments, and the health care workforce and establish public health standards through more uniform guidance, increasing testing capacity and access to free tests, increasing development of COVID-19 therapeutics and clinical care capacities, and enhancing data sharing. President Biden signed related executive orders on:
- Improving and expanding access to COVID-19 care and treatments on Jan. 21, including a requirement for the National Institutes of Health to develop studies to identify treatments for COVID-19. The executive order also directs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “evaluate the COVID-19 Uninsured Program, operated by the Health Resources and Services Administration, … support safety-net providers in delivering such treatments and clinical care, … [and] take any available steps to promote insurance coverage for safe and effective COVID-19 treatments and clinical care.”
- Requiring compliance with CDC mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines on federal property on Jan. 20. The AAMC previously recommended the establishment of national mask-wearing standards in The Way Forward on COVID-19: A Road Map to Reset the Nation’s Approach to the Pandemic.
- Requiring mask-wearing on certain modes of public transportation and establishing health guidelines for international travelers coming to the United States on Jan. 21.
- Establishing the COVID-19 pandemic testing board charged with coordinating federal diagnostic, screening, and surveillance testing for COVID-19. The Jan. 21 executive order also directs agencies to expand the public health workforce for COVID-19 and other biological threats.
- Increase emergency funding to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency response, invoke the Defense Production Act to fill supply shortfalls, and create a more flexible and capable domestic supply chain.
- On Jan. 21, President Biden signed an executive order to address the supply chain, requiring select administration officials to review the availability of personal protective equipment and medical supplies necessary to produce and distribute tests and vaccines while designing, building, and sustaining long-term manufacturing capabilities to address future biological threats.
- Implement a national strategy to reopen schools, support safe child care services, provide an additional $35 billion in emergency stabilization for higher education, and promote safe travel.
- On Jan. 21, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 … are necessary, and if such standards are determined to be necessary, issue them by March 15, 2021.”
- President Biden signed a Jan. 21 executive order directing HHS and Department of Education officials to create guidance to assist states and schools in deciding if and how to reopen — and how to remain open.
- Further protect vulnerable populations and advance equity — including across racial, ethnic, and geographic factors — through establishing the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, as President Biden did in a Jan. 21 executive order. The task force aims to increase data collection and reporting for high risk groups; ensure equitable access to health care and COVID-19 tests, therapies, and vaccines; and strengthen the social service safety net to address unmet basic needs.
- Reengaging with the World Health Organization (WHO), surging the international COVID-19 response, and building enhanced preparedness and resilience for future biological threats.
- President Biden sent a Jan. 20 letter to the United Nations secretary-general reaffirming that the United States intends to remain a member of the WHO. The AAMC previously released a May 30, 2020, statement expressing disappointment in the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the WHO.
Following his inauguration on Jan. 20, President Biden also signed an executive order to create the role of coordinator of the COVID-19 response and counselor to the president, which will be held by former National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients, who will advise and assist the administration and coordinate all elements of the COVID-19 response.
Newly appointed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, issued a Jan. 20 media statement noting that under her leadership, the “CDC will continue to focus on what is known — and what more can be learned — about the virus to guide America.” Walensky added that CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD, will conduct a comprehensive review of the CDC’s existing COVID-19 guidance and provide updated guidance “wherever needed … so that people can make decisions and take action based upon the best available evidence.”
The new administration’s COVID-19 strategy and executive orders follow the Jan. 14 release of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion legislative proposal aimed at a more immediate “rescue” response to the COVID-19 pandemic [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 15]. Discussions between Congress and the administration are expected to begin shortly related to advancing the legislative proposal.