U.S. President Joe Biden moved swiftly to coordinate a federal effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday (January 21), his first full day in office, with steps to expand testing and vaccinations and increase mask-wearing.
His predecessor Donald Trump left much of the planning to individual states, resulting in a patchwork of policies across the country.
At a White House event, Biden said the rollout of the vaccine has been a “dismal failure so far.”
“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said.
Executive orders signed by Biden on Thursday will establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travelers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
They require mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.
The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defense Production Act,” according to the plan.
Biden will also direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and tribes fully for the costs associated with National Guard-related efforts to battle the virus.
Trump often sought to play down the severity of the virus, which has killed 405,000 people and infected more than 24 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world. Millions of Americans have been thrown out of work due to lockdowns.
Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.
As of Wednesday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had administered 16.5 vaccine doses of the 35.9 million doses distributed.
(Production: Pavithra George)