On January 21, just one day after his inauguration, President Biden released his administration’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. It is both comprehensive and ambitious—emphasizing an effective vaccination campaign, public health initiatives such as mask mandates and rapid testing, and rebuilding broken trust.
How will progress be accomplished? The White House is establishing a COVID-19 Response Office responsible for coordinating the pandemic response across all federal departments and agencies.
A letter penned by President Biden preceded the plan. He wrote, “Even as we make progress, we will face setbacks. But I know we can do it, and that a true national strategy will take all of us working together. It will take Congress providing the necessary funding. Families and neighbors will need to continue looking out for one another. We will need health care providers, businesses, civic, religious and civil rights organizations, and unions all rallying together in common purpose and with urgency, purpose, and resolve.”
The entire national strategy encompasses 200 pages. While it is well worth the read, the seven goals are summarized here.
Goal One: Restore trust with the American people
This goal notes that the federal government will be a source for clear, accessible, and scientifically accurate information about COVID-19. This public leadership, with a commitment to a robust response that puts science first will, they write, rebuild the trust of the American people.
Goal Two: Mount a safe, effective, equitable vaccination campaign
No effort will be spared to ensure the quick, effective, and equitable vaccination of Americans. This will be accomplished through an aggressive vaccination strategy which included improving allocation, distribution, administration, and tracking.
Goal Three: Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, data, treatment, workforce, and clear public health standards
Part of a comprehensive national public health effort to control the virus—even after the vaccination program ramps up—will be to implement a cohesive strategy to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the government will release clear public health guidance to the public about what to do and when, including implementing mask mandates; expanding testing; strengthening the public health workforce; modernizing data collection and reporting capabilities for COVID-19 and future epidemics; and providing equitable access to treatment and clinical care.
Goal Four: Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act
The United States will immediately address urgent supply gaps while also steering the distribution of supplies to areas with the greatest need.
Goal Five: Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers
Major, unified federal investments will be made in rapid testing, an expanded rapid response public health workforce, clear guidance and protections, and support for people to stay home when they are infected to stop the spread of COVID-19 in order to facilitate the reopening of schools, businesses, travel, and the economy.
Goal Six: Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic, and rural/urban lines
The federal government will address disparities in rates of infection, illness, and death while focusing on the health inequities among communities defined by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors.
Goal Seven: Restore U.S. leadership globally, advance health security, and build better preparedness for future threats
The administration will work to restore America’s role in leading the world through global crises, advancing global health security and the Global Health Security Agenda, including by supporting the international pandemic response effort, providing humanitarian relief and global health assistance, and building resilience for future epidemics and pandemics.
Not good enough?
The plan is a stark contrast to what was in place before last Wednesday. But some say it’s not ambitious enough. Eric Topol, MD, director & founder, Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted that, “While the Biden COVID plan is solid, it isn’t nearly aggressive enough.” Measures that Topol would add? Vaccination of ≥2.5 million people per day, the distribution of medical quality masks and rapid home tests to every household.
Time will likely bring changes and addendums to the plan. When those changes occur, President Biden asserts that they will be communicated openly. He included in his letter that the entire administration “will always be honest and transparent with you about both the good news and the bad” and that the national strategy will be driven by scientists and public health experts “who will regularly speak directly to you, free from political interference as they make decisions strictly on science and public health alone.”