Americans received a welcome treat last week — a White House coronavirus briefing light on theatrics and heavy on facts. Under Donald Trump, the briefings on the pandemic too often contained so much hyperbole and so many errors that they bordered on farce, with the media and his own advisers left to waste valuable time clarifying all the errors. The first session Wednesday of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response team was refreshing for its candor and guarded optimism. The team needs to stick to a formula that will bolster public faith in the vaccines and in further reopening the economy.
The advisers made clear that science would dictate the nation’s response, and that the federal government would ramp up its efforts and talk honestly with Americans about what was or wasn’t working. To that end, President Joe Biden’s team succeeded in framing the challenges of the vaccination program even as infections continue to take a staggering toll and as multiple — and likely more infectious — variants of the virus threaten to sicken more Americans and put a heavier strain on the nation’s health care system.
While underscoring the administration’s effort to get more vaccines in the pipeline, top advisor Andy Slavitt acknowledged it would “be months before everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.” The new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, noted that declining case numbers and hospitalizations were “hopeful signs.” But she echoed the warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci, another task force member and the government’s top infectious diseases expert, that America’s baseline of infections remains “extraordinarily high,” with another 100,000 U.S. deaths possible in the coming month. “I know this is not news we all want to hear,” Walensky said. “But this is something we must say so we all are aware.”
The briefing rightly balanced the enormity of the crisis with strategies for moving ahead. Unlike under the Trump White House, there’s was no talk of bleach or unproven wonder drugs, of a flood of vaccine around the corner or of the virus magically going away. The advisers repeated Biden’s key promises — providing at least 1 million doses of vaccine per day during his first 100 days in office, fielding a corps of retired health professionals to administer shots and committing federal money and personnel to beef-up state vaccination sites. “This is a national emergency,” Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 coordinator said, adding: “Everything is on the table.” And Zients promised the briefing would be the first of many, regularly-scheduled sessions. “We will not always know the answers to your questions,” he said. “When we don’t, we’ll tell you.”
This simple approach — relying on the science, putting resources where they’re needed, understanding the facts on the ground and leveling with the public — will be key in tempering the concerns Americans may have in getting inoculated, and in easing anxieties over when the vaccines will become more widely available. Every administration hypes its promises and spins its performance. The Biden administration may have inherited a mess, but it occupies the White House now, and its own credibility is now on the line.
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