President-elect Joe Biden’s pandemic strategy includes ramping up testing, more mask requirements, and restoring public trust in health agencies.
During his campaign, President-elect Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump of having no plan to guide the US out of the pandemic. Biden put forward his own coronavirus plan on March 12 — the day after Trump said the virus posed a “very low” risk to Americans — and has consistently called for more widespread testing and mask requirements.
Many experts expect the current surge in cases to be the nation’s largest, and perhaps deadliest, yet. The US’s daily case counts surpassed 100,000 for the last three days in a row.
“We’re about to go into a dark winter,” Biden said at the final presidential debate in October.
By the time Biden assumes office in January, he will likely inherit an even worse crisis.
Here are the key ways he plans to get US coronavirus cases under control.
Make tests widely available
Biden has pledged to make testing more widely available through a government-backed test-development program. He also intends to increase the production of rapid, at-home diagnostic tests and establish at least 10 drive-through testing sites per state.
Biden has vowed to make testing free for all Americans, including uninsured individuals, which is supposed to be the case already. But some Americans have been hit with surprise bills — either because hospitals and doctors have used the wrong billing codes or insurers have charged patients for co-payments and deductibles.
“People can fall through the cracks based on how it’s coded or what additional diagnosis they got, but at the end of the day, the federal government’s power is in what’s required of insurers,” Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, told Business Insider.
Biden has vowed to eliminate surprise medical billing and waive payments for doctors visits at which a coronavirus test is ordered. He has also pledged to establish an emergency diagnostic code for coronavirus patients on Medicare and Medicaid.
Expand mask requirements
Biden has said he would consider a national mask mandate, though legal experts say he may only have the authority to enforce mask-wearing on federal property or in federal facilities.
At the very least, Biden plans to work with governors to implement mask requirements.
“First, I’ll go to every governor and urge them to mandate mask-wearing in their states. And if they refuse, I’ll go to the mayors and county executives and get local masking requirements in place nationwide,” Biden said in October.
Tailor lockdowns to local hotspots
It seems unlikely that Biden would impose a nationwide shutdown, based on his comments leading up to Election Day. But the president-elect has repeatedly said he would follow the recommendations of scientific officials.
“I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives. Because we cannot get the country moving until we control the virus,” Biden told ABC’s David Muir in August.
Biden’s campaign website at one time stated that if elected, he would tailor reopening guidelines to individual communities based on their levels of transmission. That means local schools and businesses would be allowed to reopen in a particular area once coronavirus cases are low. Biden also plans to allocate federal funds to help boost safety in facilities that do open, such as by distributing masks and improving ventilation in schools, or installing plastic barriers at restaurants.
“You can open businesses and schools if in fact you provide them the guidance they need, as well as the money to be able to do it,” Biden said at an ABC News town hall in October.
Restore the CDC’s authority
The Trump administration’s approach has come into conflict with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) several times. CDC scientists have said some of their advice about lockdowns and testing was ignored by the federal administration.
“Having a national set of guidelines and clear directive guidance from the CDC would go a long way to actually empowering local institutions,” Dr. Leana Wen, a public-health professor at George Washington University, told Business Insider.
In February, less than two weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a public-health emergency of international concern, Trump proposed a 16% reduction in CDC funding for the 2021 fiscal year, according to ABC News.
Biden has pledged to build back the CDC’s authority and said he hopes to work with the agency to establish real-time dashboards that track hospital admissions and PPE availability across the country. While accepting the nomination in August, he promised to “take the muzzle off our experts so the public gets the information they need and deserve.”
Rejoin the World Health Organization
Trump halted all funding to the WHO, which is helping coordinate the global response to the pandemic, in April. Then in July, the US officially withdrew from the WHO, though the decision wouldn’t be finalized until July 2021.
Biden has said he will rejoin the WHO on his first day in office.
“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health,” he tweeted in July.
Enlist at least 100,000 contact tracers
As of October, the US had 50,000 contact tracers, according to a joint survey from NPR and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That means the vast majority of states don’t have enough contact tracers to investigate their coronavirus cases, according to NPR’s analysis.
The Trump administration sought to block additional funding for contact tracing in July. Biden has pledged to grow the US’s contact-tracing workforce by around 100,000 employees.
Distribute more ventilators and PPE to hospitals
Biden has promised to lean more heavily on the Defense Production Act, which allows the president to require businesses to prioritize the federal government’s supply-chain needs. Trump has invoked the act, too, but Biden hopes to using it more aggressively to alleviate supply-chain issues with PPE, ventilators, and other resources needed by hospitals.
“We’ve already seen the failures of the Trump administration when it comes to testing and us running out of reagents for tests and swabs,” Wen said. “We’re also seeing supply chain issues with PPE, with critical medications.”
Ensure free COVID-19 treatment for all Americans
At the moment, COVID-19 treatments — of which there are still very few — may be free depending on the state you live in, your insurer, or your employer. Biden has promised to eliminate co-pays, deductibles, and surprise bills for insured Americans who receive these therapies. He has also pledged to reimburse healthcare providers for COVID-19 treatments for uninsured patients.
Ensure a vaccine is safe and free
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program is currently manufacturing vaccine doses in large quantities while clinical trials are ongoing. It’s also funding the research and development of promising candidates. Congress has directed nearly $10 billion in CARES Act funding to Operation Warp Speed.
Biden hasn’t confirmed publicly that he will advance that program once in office, but two companies funded by Warp Speed told STAT in October they were already in communication with Biden advisers. Biden has also pledged another $25 billion investment in vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
At a campaign speech a couple weeks before the election, Biden promised that Americans wouldn’t be charged for a vaccine under his administration — a pledge Trump made as well.
“Once we have a safe and effective vaccine, it has to be free to everyone, whether or not you’re insured,” Biden said.
Biden has also promised that any vaccine candidate will be deemed safe and effective by career scientists before it’s distributed to Americans, and he has called for data from trials to be made public.
“For a vaccine to have an effect, it needs to be trusted,” Wen said. “And there are many people now who do not trust a vaccine because they fear political interference with the scientific process.”