Biden offers sober warning of road ahead on coronavirus

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday delivered a sober warning about the road ahead in combating COVID-19, preparing the public for difficult months as his team takes over response efforts from the Trump administration.

Speaking in Wilmington, Del., Biden expressed optimism about the progress on a vaccine and the promise of an economic rebound and said he envisioned a “return to normalcy” by the end of 2021. 

But he sought to level with the country about the challenges ahead with respect to getting sky-high cases under control following the holiday season and taking over a vaccine distribution effort that has thus far failed to meet expectations.

“We need to be honest. The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, a very tough period for our nation, maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic. I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth,” Biden said. 

“We’re going to get through this. Brighter days are coming, but it’s going to take all the grit and determination we have as Americans to get it done,” Biden continued, adding that things would “get worse before they get better.”

Biden highlighted the potential for coronavirus cases to further increase during January after millions of Americans traveled and gathered with family over the holidays despite warnings from public health experts. 

The Transportation Security Administration screened almost 1.3 million travelers on Sunday, setting a one-day record for air travel during the pandemic. 

“Turning this around is going to take time. We might not see improvement until we are well into March, as it will take time for our COVID response plan to begin to produce visible progress,” Biden said. 

Biden’s remarks represented an effort to set expectations for his administration’s efforts to confront the virus in his first 100 days as president. The United States has recorded nearly 19.5 million total coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and has endured more than 336,000 deaths due to the virus.

Biden predicted grimly Tuesday that the U.S. would surpass 400,000 deaths before he takes office on Jan. 20.

Shortly after Biden spoke, news broke that the first known U.S. case of a new coronavirus variant had been detected in Colorado. 

Biden echoed remarks from public health experts who have warned of difficult days ahead. Speaking on CNN earlier Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said the surge in cases could worsen given the large numbers of Americans who traveled over the holidays.

“I think we just have to assume that it’s going to get worse,” said Fauci, who has been tapped as Biden’s chief medical adviser. 

Biden on Tuesday also criticized the Trump administration’s response to the virus and laid out an ambitious plan to confront COVID-19 once he takes office next month. 

He said the administration has fallen “far behind” its goal of administering 20 million vaccines by the end of 2020. Biden, whose team plans to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up vaccine production, said he would accelerate distribution to administer 100 million doses of vaccine in his first 100 days in office.

“This is going to be the greatest operational challenge we have ever faced as a nation, but we’re going to get it done,” Biden said.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday night defending the administration’s efforts to deliver a vaccine rapidly to the public. 

“President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed has developed safe and effective vaccines 5 times faster than any similar effort in history, and he has already made the vaccines free for all Americans. Nearly 20 million first doses have been allocated to States for immediate delivery and administration at their direction, and this process is progressing rapidly,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

“While partisan critics offer nothing but empty rhetoric to frighten Americans for political ends, President Trump delivers results. Our country’s brightest days are ahead thanks to President Trump’s relentless pursuit of safety and prosperity for all,” she added, without mentioning Biden specifically. 

Biden has consistently sought to draw a contrast with President Trump in his behavior and rhetoric on the pandemic, and he made the virus a central focus of his presidential campaign.

Trump, who is at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus and on only a few occasions has adjusted his tone to offer sober predictions about the road ahead. Trump has also held large campaign rallies and official gatherings throughout the pandemic, eschewing his administration’s own health guidelines. 

Trump has touted the progress on vaccines as a signature accomplishment but has been largely absent from the public eye since his election loss to Biden, which he refuses to accept. Trump has been spotted golfing this week at his West Palm Beach club and on Tuesday lashed out at congressional Republicans for allowing a veto override of must-pass defense policy legislation and for refusing to back his election fraud claims. 

Trump is also aggressively pressuring Republicans to pass a bill boosting the amount of stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 after backing off criticism of a coronavirus relief and government funding bill that he signed on Sunday.

Updated at 11 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci Colorado Coronavirus COVID-19 Delaware Donald Trump Florida Joe Biden Pandemic Vaccine
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