Experts outline what Joe Biden needs to do to contain the Covid-19 crisis if he wins in November
If Joe Biden wins in November, he’ll likely be facing a widespread pandemic during the peak of flu season when he takes office in January. His ability to handle the Covid-19 crisis will surely be a defining aspect of his presidency, as it has come to define Trump’s. It’s important that he get it right. Infectious disease experts tell AlterNet that there are some important steps Biden must take early on to get the country on the right track.
Biden’s said that he would ask Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases if he becomes president, and he would work closely with him to contain the pandemic. Biden’s also released a lengthy plan outlining how he would address the pandemic, which includes building out testing capacity and creating a national contact tracing program, getting more PPE to frontline workers, expanding safety net programs to help working-class people affected by the pandemic and more.
Infectious disease experts say what we really need is the kind of coordinated federal response that we haven’t seen from the Trump administration. Kacey Ernst, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Arizona, tells AlterNet, “there should be coordination at the federal level for resources, federal mandates for public health policies that help curb the pandemic, and the development of a scientific advisory committee that is experienced and ready to lead us through this pandemic based on science and not partisan politics.” Ernst adds that “it should be comprised of people from both parties. The biggest detriment to our response has been the political divide and leveraging resources as a political weapon. The American people should not be pawns on the political chessboard.”
Ernst says there should also be economic experts focusing on how to keep the economy from deteriorating further as ma result of the pandemic. She says an “integrated approach” that focuses on how to protect the physical and economic health of all Americans is key. Part of Biden’s plan focuses on helping communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, which Ernst says is a key piece of the puzzle.
One problem is that some of the things Biden should do in order to get the pandemic under control will be controversial and may be difficult to actually implement. Ernst says there should be a federal mandate that requires people to wear masks in public, but expects that there would be intense pushback on that.
Andrew Natsios, director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A&M University, tells AlterNet that there are also legal issues that could arise if Biden tried to mandate mask-wearing in public.
“Under a 1998 Supreme Court ruling the federal government cannot compel state and local law enforcement to enforce federal regulations unless state law is in conflict with federal law, in which case under the Supremacy Clause federal law is supreme,” Natsios says. “I think many populist conservatives would refuse to comply with an executive order on masks issued by Joe Biden should he win the election.”
Natsios says Biden should reestablish the White House Office on Pandemics and Biosecurity that was closed by the Trump administration, as Biden has called for, and set up an “early warning system” within the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help monitor possible pandemics in the future.
Ernst says we need widely available testing everywhere, which will require “significant coordination” with labs, medical facilities and other locations. She also calls for federally mandated data reporting and transparency so Americans will know “the situation in their local area” and “be comfortable that the data they are seeing are accurate.”
“Coordinating resources is something that has been left largely to the states. This has led to significant challenges in states acquiring PPE and supplies for their medical staff,” Ernst says. “This must be done at the federal level to ensure equitable distribution and to be able to help mobilize resources, including human resources, from lower transmission areas to higher transmission areas.”
The federal government needs to lay out public health measures that can be “intensified but not reduced” at the state level, Ernst says, and it should be working “in concert” with states to help address their specific needs. She says states need to have strategies that are “guided by more rigorous scientific metrics than what we have seen in the past.”
When it comes down to it, what we really need is leadership at the top of the federal government that’s actively working to contain this pandemic instead of leaving states to fend for themselves. We need a president who will work tirelessly to learn what is happening in each state and create plans to help states improve their conditions. The hands-off approach Trump has displayed, experts say, is making it much harder to get this crisis under control.