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How Biden plans to fight the pandemic: 100 million shots, large-scale vaccination sites, and the reopening of K-8 schools

How Biden plans to fight the pandemic: 100 million shots, large-scale vaccination sites, and the reopening of K-8 schools
  • President Joe Biden issued three coronavirus-related executive orders on his first day in office.
  • The orders aim to increase mask wearing, accelerate vaccine distribution, and restore the US relationship with the World Health Organization.
  • In the next 100 days, Biden plans to reopen the majority of K-8 schools and administer 100 million coronavirus shots.

President Joe Biden took office Wednesday amid a deadly peak in the US coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 3,000 people are dying of COVID-19 every day, on average. At that rate, an estimated 42 Americans died of COVID-19 during Biden's 21-minute inauguration speech alone.

The president plans to take immediate action to vaccinate more Americans, reduce coronavirus transmission, and safely reopen schools and businesses.

"We're entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus," he said in his inauguration speech. "We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation."

Among the 17 executive actions Biden took on Wednesday, three are directly related to the pandemic. Here's what to expect in the coming days, based on the president's long- and short-term goals to bring the nation closer to normal life.

Day 1: Biden issued a mandate that everyone must wear masks on federal property nationwide, and instituted a "100 Days Masking Challenge" for all Americans.

Day 1: Biden issued a mandate that everyone must wear masks on federal property nationwide, and instituted a "100 Days Masking Challenge" for all Americans.
Joe Biden holds up a mask at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 28, 2020. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The executive order requires face masks to be worn on federal land and in federal buildings. The order applies to any federal employee or contractor working in these locations and facilities.

Since Biden does not have the legal authority to require every American to wear a mask, his order instead challenges the public to wear masks for 100 days. He has called on governors, mayors, and public-health officials to support him in the mission.

"This is a patriotic act," Biden said in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on January 15. "We're asking you. We're in a war with this virus."

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Day 1: Biden appointed a new COVID-19 response team.

Day 1: Biden appointed a new COVID-19 response team.
Jeffrey Zients served several high profile roles during the Obama Administration. Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images

Biden made Jeffrey Zients, who served as the director of the National Economic Council under the Obama administration, his COVID-19 response coordinator.

Zients is now in charge of managing the nation's production and distribution of vaccines, ensuring a consistent supply of medical equipment, and determining future travel restrictions, among other tasks. He does not have a medical or scientific background, but Obama-era officials considered Zients an effective problem-solver.

"What has been stunningly lacking over the past year is an organized response," Tom Frieden, former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Financial Times on Wednesday. "You need someone to be the conductor of the orchestra. They don't need to know how to play every instrument, you just need to know what to do to get the best out of them."

Zients will also work closely with David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who will take over Moncef Slaoui's role as head of US vaccine rollout.

Biden also plans to restore an Obama-era National Security Council position, Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was dissolved during the Trump administration. In a Tuesday press briefing, Zients said the position would "play a critical role in stopping this pandemic and preventing future biological catastrophes."

The role will be filled by Elizabeth Cameron, a former White House national security official.

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Day 1: Stop the US exit from the World Health Organization.

Day 1: Stop the US exit from the World Health Organization.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks with WHO Health Emergencies Program Director Michael Ryan during a briefing at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 6, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

In April, President Donald Trump halted US funding for the WHO. His administration officially withdrew the US from the WHO in July, but the decision takes a year to finalize.

"America's withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics," Zients said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Biden put a stop to the US withdrawal process. He has asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to represent the US at the WHO's annual meetings this week.

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First Month: Get 100 federally supported vaccination centers up and running.

First Month: Get 100 federally supported vaccination centers up and running.
Emily Alexander, 37, shows her COVID-19 vaccination card shortly after getting the vaccine in the parking lot of the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on January 11, 2021. Terry Tang/AP Photo

The Trump administration gave states the responsibility to oversee their own vaccine rollouts, but many state health departments have said they lacked sufficient funding and staff to accelerate vaccinations. Only 16.5 million vaccine doses have been administered so far, though more than double that number has been distributed to states as of Wednesday.

Biden called the vaccine rollout "a dismal failure" last week. He has promised to enlist both the National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help establish vaccination sites across the country, in places like school gyms, sports stadiums, and community centers, along with mobile vaccination units in hard-to-reach areas.

"By the end of our first month in office, we will have 100 federally supported centers across the nation that will ultimately vaccinate millions of people," Biden said last week.

States that mobilize their own National Guards for vaccine distribution will be reimbursed by the federal government, according to Biden's plan.

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First 100 Days: Allocate $1.9 trillion for coronavirus relief.

First 100 Days: Allocate $1.9 trillion for coronavirus relief.
Airline industry workers hold signs during a protest in Federal Plaza in Chicago, Illinois, on September 9, 2020. KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Biden has proposed a package he calls the American Rescue Plan, which would include $400 billion to directly combat the pandemic.

Of that sum, $20 billion would go to a national vaccination program. Another $50 billion would go to making coronavirus tests more widely available; that includes purchasing more rapid tests and helping schools and local governments administer tests more frequently.

Additional funds would be invested in new COVID-19 treatments, expanding the US ability to detect and identify new coronavirus strains, and increasing domestic manufacturing of medical supplies or protective gear. Biden also plans to fund 100,000 public health jobs to assist with contact tracing and administering vaccines.

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First 100 days: Get 100 million coronavirus shots into arms.

First 100 days: Get 100 million coronavirus shots into arms.
Pharmacy director Gayle Butler prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at St. John's Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles, California, on January 7, 2021. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

The Trump administration aimed to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020, but fell short. Many states have recently reported vaccine shortages, which forced some to cancel vaccine appointments. Still, the speed of vaccinations has accelerated in recent weeks: The US is administering around 800,000 vaccine doses per day, on average.

Biden hopes to quicken this pace by creating more vaccination sites, ramping up the production of vials and syringes, and increasing funding to state and local health departments. In December, he said his short-term goal was to administer 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office. That would require at least 1 million vaccinations per day.

"Some wonder if we're reaching too far for that goal," Biden said last week. "Is it achievable? It's a legitimate question to ask. Let me be clear. I'm convinced we can get it done."

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First 100 Days: Reopen the majority of K-8 schools.

First 100 Days: Reopen the majority of K-8 schools.
A student at Rippowam Middle School on September 14, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. John Moore/Getty Images

Biden's proposed coronavirus relief package includes $130 billion to help primary schools reopen safely. Schools can use the money to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, hire more janitors, distribute personal protective equipment, or modify classroom layouts so students and teachers can socially distance.

Biden also hopes to add $30 billion to FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, which could help schools expand their testing capacity.

"We can teach our children in safe schools," Biden said on Wednesday. "We can overcome the deadly virus."

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