U.S. President Joe Biden moved swiftly on his first full day in the White House on Thursday to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, his top priority as he turns the page on four years of Donald Trump’s tumultuous leadership, Reuters reported.
The Biden administration is aiming at a coordinated federal coronavirus response to the 10-month pandemic, focused on boosting vaccines, increasing testing, reopening schools and addressing inequalities thrown up by the disease.
Trump, who frequently sought to play down the severity of the virus which has killed more than 405,000 Americans, left much of the pandemic planning to individual states, which has resulted in a patchwork of policies across the country.
“We can and will beat COVID-19. America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data, and public health — not politics,” the White House said in a statement outlining its strategy against the coronavirus.
The pandemic has killed more people in the United States than anywhere in the world, and left millions out of work due to lockdowns.
The virus cast a shadow over Biden’s inauguration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Crowds, which often reach into the hundreds of thousands for the swearing-in of a president, were kept away for fear of spreading infections.
Biden will sign a series of executive orders related to the pandemic later on Thursday, including requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses, officials said.
The administration will also expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defense Production Act,” according to the plan.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the DPA would also be used to speed up delivery of protective gear.
The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base,” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.
Biden will also direct the Federal Emergency Management Administration to reimburse states and tribes fully for the costs associated with National Guard-related efforts to combat the virus.
The measure restores “full reimbursement” from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund for costs related to re-opening schools. FEMA funds are typically dispersed after hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters.
The new Democratic president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice. Other issues the administration plans to address over the next 10 days include healthcare, the economy, immigration and climate change.