Slew of Biden orders on COVID-19 to include resuming WHO membership
President-elect Joe Biden is slated to issue numerous executive orders on his first day in office aimed at improving the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, including one that will have the country resume its membership in the World Health Organization (WHO).
“[Today] starts a new day, a new different approach to managing the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis,” said Jeff Zients, coordinator of Biden’s COVID-19 response, in a press call with reporters.
“As you’ve heard the President-elect say: the pandemic will continue to get worse before it gets better. This is clearly a national emergency and we will treat it as such.”
Biden’s orders on Wednesday will emphasize a strengthened federal response to the pandemic following the Trump administration’s deferral to state and local governments on issues ranging from testing to vaccine distribution.
On the international level, Biden will immediately cease the process initiated by the Trump administration of withdrawing the country from WHO.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who was routinely criticized by President Trump, will head the U.S. delegation to WHO and participate in the organization’s executive board meeting Thursday.
“America’s withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics,” Zients said.
Trump repeatedly attacked the WHO for alleged bias toward China and its slow response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
Withdrawal from the WHO requires a year’s notice. Without any action by Biden, the U.S. would officially leave the international body on July 6.
Another executive order to be issued Wednesday will require masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, lands and by government employees and contractors.
Biden has acknowledged he doesn’t have the authority to order a nationwide mask mandate, but he will “challenge” all Americans to wear masks for at least 100 days and urge state and local leaders to depoliticize mask-wearing and issue their own requirements.
Biden will also issue an executive order restoring the National Security Council’s global health security and biodefense directorate, which will “play a critical role in stopping the COVID-19 pandemic” while preventing “future biological catastrophes,” according to the Biden team.
That order will also establish a COVID-19 response coordinator, who will report directly to the president and coordinate elements of the response across the government, similar to the position Deborah Birx held in the Trump administration.
The individual in the new role will coordinate the production and availability of vaccines, personal protective equipment for health workers and other supplies, in addition to leading the government’s effort to support the safe reopening of most K-8 schools within the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency.