It took a year, 400,000 American deaths and Donald Trump’s defeat, but the White House unveiled a new plan Thursday for fighting COVID-19. To succeed, President Joe Biden will need billions of dollars in funding from a fractured Congress, and the cooperation of both Democratic and Republican governors. But the nation finally has a comprehensive strategy and the presidential leadership to meet the pandemic head-on.
Biden made the pandemic his first order of business since arriving at the White House after the inauguration Wednesday. He appointed a new national response coordinator, ordered that masks be worn on federal property and reinstated ties with the World Health Organization, which Trump used as a scapegoat for the virus’ spread in this country. Biden also elevated America’s response to a new level Thursday, with a wide-ranging plan to get more tests, vaccines and medical equipment into the hands and arms of providers and citizens.
The administration’s strategy revolves around several key goals aimed at restoring public trust, limiting the spread of infections and ramping up vaccinations so the nation can fully reopen again. The federal government would establish a clear chain-of-command to work with states and local governments to fight the pandemic. That would include speeding up the manufacture and distribution of vaccines, testing kits and masks and other medical equipment, using authority under the Defense Production Act if necessary to energize the logistical effort.
The federal government would also assist states and communities in establishing mass vaccination sites and mobile health units to meet the huge demand for inoculations and to serve hard-to-reach communities. That would fill a key gap left by Trump’s decision to leave the pandemic response largely to the states. The Biden administration would provide clearer guidance to states and providers about the number of vaccines in the pipeline. It would track local health metrics more closely, helping to steer resources to flash points. And it would create a national Public Health Jobs Corps to field 100,000 nurses and health care workers to better spot and respond to high-risk communities.
As important, the plan establishes that science and equity will drive the decision-making process. Trump’s effort to downplay the virus for political reasons only increased public opposition to masks and other precautionary measures, and helped fuel skepticism of vaccines that were developed in record time. By having health care professionals take the lead, and making the government’s efforts more transparent, Biden’s plan should fortify public confidence as the nation ramps up its capabilities. That will accelerate getting shots into arms, a precursor for a wider reopening of schools, offices and businesses.
The administration’s goal is to augment the ongoing public health campaign. That’s why it was disappointing to see Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis criticize the effort before it even was announced. DeSantis said Tuesday, prior to Biden’s inauguration, that the idea of using the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to build vaccine clinics across the country would be a “big mistake.”
But Biden’s idea is entirely in keeping with the governor’s own use of emergency managers and Guard personnel in the fight against COVID-19. And what DeSantis describes as “FEMA camps” is what Florida has already used or envisioned — mass testing and vaccination centers at stadium and conference sites. Biden’s plan would also direct FEMA to reimburse the states for Guard personnel and emergency supplies. The governor, who has overseen a chaotic and confusing COVID response, should welcome the competence and resources the federal government is offering. Floridians could sure use it.
Congress needs to provide another robust COVID relief package and the administration needs to execute what it’s put on paper. Biden and his team must fight against allowing the plan to morph into just another level of government bureaucracy that gets in the way of the speedy dispersal of vaccines. But so far the strategy is comprehensive, it complements efforts at the state and local levels and it is appropriately ambitious in scope. Biden is taking responsibility as president for a crisis gripping the nation. That’s a critically important sign that Americans have waited too long to see throughout these long, painful months.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, editorial writers John Hill and Jim Verhulst, and Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news