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Illustration by Security Management

Biden Orders Include More Pandemic Response Efforts

U.S. President Joe Biden’s first day on the job was marked by more than inaugural ceremonies. Biden also signed 17 executive orders, several of which kick off a larger and tougher federal response to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as well as rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO).

Shifting away from the previous administration’s stance—which largely left states responsible for determining pandemic responses within their jurisdictions—Biden made physical distancing and masks a requirement for all federal properties and employees, including government contractors. The order also directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with state and local authorities and leaders to encourage mask-wearing and other public health efforts identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Biden’s orders also placed a greater reliance on scientific data, asserting that his administration “will always listen to science [and] ensure public health decisions are informed by public health professionals.”

In step with the orders, Biden also asked Americans to participate in a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” hoping to curb a recent rise in fatalities linked to the COVID-19 virus in the United States as new strains of the virus continue to spread. According to The COVID Tracking Project, deaths in the week of 14 January reached a new peak in the United States, climbing to 25 percent higher compared to any week since the start of the pandemic. However, data also indicates that the rate of new cases may be decreasing throughout the country.

The orders are part of a seven-point strategy to deal with the pandemic. Overall, the administration intends to ramp up free testing, increase investments in next-gen testing like home tests, contact tracing, and vaccination sites; protect at-risk groups; use the U.S. Defense Production Act to increase the production of personal protective equipment (PPE); and direct the CDC to provide communities with guidance on scaling public health measures depending on the degree of viral spread.

Biden also reestablished the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense and appointed Jeffrey Zients as the pandemic’s official response coordinator.

Moving beyond the United States, Biden wrote to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and notified him that the United States would retain its membership with the WHO.

“The WHO plays a crucial role in the world’s fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic as well as countless other threats to global health and health security,” Biden wrote. “The United States will continue to be a full participant and a global leader in confronting such threats and advancing global health and health security.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was named head of the U.S. delegation to the WHO’s executive board and is expected to begin operating in this capacity this week. 

The return to the WHO, a United Nations organization, marks a reversal in policy after the Trump Administration announced that the United States would remove its membership and funding. U.S. President Donald Trump previously accused the organization of aiding Chinese authorities in obfuscating reports about the scope of the virus in China.

While the orders set a new tone that future pandemic efforts may be more cohesive across U.S. states and territories, some caution that there will be steep obstacles to overcome in the short term. “The Trump Administration had already begun sending out most available vaccine doses to states, meaning there’s no quick way to boost the supply in the immediate term,” Axios reported. “In many states, demand is simply overwhelming supply.”  

More executive orders are expected to come in on Thursday regarding COVID-19 and economic support for Americans.