Editorial: Finally, a president with a COVID-19 plan
If there is a single day that marks the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., it would be Jan. 21, 2020, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it had confirmed the first case of the novel coronavirus on American soil.
The following day, President Trump, who was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brushed off the threat from the then-unnamed virus with the type of willful carelessness that defined his government’s approach to the pandemic that would soon rear its ugly head. “It’s one person coming in from China,” he told CNBC. “We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Needless to say, it wasn’t fine. Even then the virus was stealthily spreading throughout the country. Nor did the U.S. have the coronavirus under any sort of control. As turned out, Trump didn’t even have a plan for how to get there, leaving it to the states to figure out what to do. Instead, he pinned his and the nation’s fortunes on getting COVID-19 vaccines developed quickly, which the administration helped to make happen.
It was not a winning strategy. In the first year of the pandemic, the U.S. led the world in COVID-19 infection and death. “American carnage” indeed: More than 400,000 dead from the virus, countless jobs lost and futures derailed.
But there’s hope that the second year of the pandemic will be less deadly and destructive. At long last, we have a president with an actual plan to tap the knowledge and resources of the nation for a comprehensive response the likes of which we could have used long ago. On the anniversary of the nation’s first confirmed case, President Biden released a 200-page document outlining a host of steps he plans to take immediately as he seeks to fulfill his promise to guide the nation out of the pandemic and to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days.
There is nothing new or revolutionary in the plan; just sensible, science-based policy. Experts had long advocated for many if not most of the measures, such as expanding and supporting rapid testing, using the Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to gin up more protective gear and other supplies, and mandating face coverings.
Biden also said Thursday that he would require that travelers flying into the U.S. have negative COVID-19 tests and to quarantine upon arrival. Negative test results aren’t definitive proof of the absence of infection, but it’s better than the total lack of information we have now about travelers’ health. It’s maddening to think how many people might have been saved from serious illness or death if even half the steps in this plan had been taken last year.
The first order of business, however, is getting a handle on why there isn’t more vaccine being shipped to states. The U.S. invested many billions of dollars into developing and pre-purchasing doses even before they were proved to be effective. But supply has been unreliable, and now California and some other states are reporting shortages. Just what is going on? One of the last acts of now-defunct Operation Warp Speed was to assure Americans this month that vaccine production was reliable. At the same time, the Warp Speed team lied about the existence of national stockpile of vaccines, which makes us wonder whether production of vaccines is truly proceeding apace.
Biden’s COVID coordinator, Jeff Zients, laid the chaos at the feet of the last administration. “What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” he said Wednesday in a call with reporters. Given what we do know, that is not a surprise. But it will be up to Biden’s team to fix that, and fast.
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