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Biden unveils coronavirus plan, warns it will take months to 'turn things around'
President Biden on Thursday unveiled a comprehensive strategy to address the coronavirus pandemic while warning that it would take months for his administration's actions to significantly alter the trajectory of the pandemic.
Biden, seeking to manage expectations as the United States confronts a dire period of infections, said that the COVID-19 death toll would likely top 500,000 in February and that it would take months to get Americans vaccinated against the virus.
"We didn't get into this mess overnight and it's going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear - we will get through this," Biden said in remarks from the State Dining Room.
"We will defeat this pandemic, and to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point: Help is on the way," he continued.
Biden on his first full day in office unveiled a 100-plus page national strategy to defeat COVID-19, which focuses on accelerating vaccinations while slowing the spread of the virus with increased mask wearing, more testing and other public health measures. He also signed 10 executive orders aimed at blunting the public health crisis.
To that end, Biden announced his administration directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin standing up community vaccination centers, with the goal of opening 100 across the country within the month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will also launch a program to expand access to vaccines through local pharmacies. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will work to recruit more health workers to serve as vaccinators.
Biden's remarks came the day after he was sworn in as president and demonstrated the central focus he is putting on the coronavirus response as he takes office as the country grapples with the continuing high cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.
He expressed cautious optimism about the path forward while promising that his administration would level with the American public on the true threat posed by the virus.
"We will level with you when we make a mistake. We will straight up say what happened," Biden said, adding a warning: "We are still in the dark winter of this pandemic."
Biden has set a goal of administering 100 million coronavirus vaccines in the first 100 days of his presidency to curb the threat of a virus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and more than 2 million globally to date.
Some experts have said 100 million vaccinations in that time frame isn't ambitious enough, but asked about that after the event Thursday, Biden replied: "When I announced it, you guys said it wasn't possible."
"Come on, man," he added. "It's a good start."
Biden signed several executive orders, including one that directs federal agencies to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) and other powers to close supply shortages of items needed for the COVID-19 response, including protective equipment for health workers, lab equipment and materials to speed up vaccine manufacturing.
Other executive orders will require mask-wearing in airports and certain modes of transportation, including trains and airplanes. Two orders will establish the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board, which will aim to increase access to tests in schools, workplaces and underserved communities in part by expanding the public health workforce and finding ways to procure and produce more supplies, and the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which will advise the president on addressing health disparities.
The orders are among over two dozen executive orders and directives that Biden has signed in his first two days as president. Many of the actions deal with the pandemic but others cross into immigration, economic and environmental policy.
Biden also signed orders aimed at improving COVID-19 data collection, directing more research into potential treatments and asking agencies to provide guidance on safely reopening workplaces and schools.
Biden on Wednesday reversed the Trump administration's plans to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and also signed an order implementing a mask mandate in federal buildings.
"Under trying circumstances, this organization has rallied the scientific and research and development community to accelerate vaccines, therapies and diagnostics; conducted regular, streamed press briefings that authoritatively track global developments; provided millions of vital supplies from lab reagents to protective gear to health care workers in dozens of countries; and relentlessly worked with nations in their fight against COVID-19," Anthony Fauci said in virtual remarks before the WHO on Thursday morning.
"I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization," Fauci said.