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Biden Day 1: Executive action on COVID-19 response

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·3 min read
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President Joe Biden signed more than a dozen executive orders just hours after entering the White House, including several to address the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of this virus,” Biden said during his inauguration speech.

Biden signed a mask mandate that would apply to all federal buildings, employees, plus certain federal lands and modes of transportation, according to press secretary Jen Psaki at her first briefing Wednesday evening.

He also launched a 100-day mask challenge to encourage all Americans to wear masks and help curb the spread of the virus — stopping short of a federal mandate. The move is increasingly important as health experts are now focused on the potential for the U.K. variant, know as B.1.1.7, to cause another surge by March.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), will participate in the World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on Thursday as the head of the U.S. delegation, according to Psaki.

The move is a reversal from the Trump administration, which sought to exit from the international agency amid the pandemic.

Biden has also appointed a COVID-19 Response Coordinator and team to help coordinate efforts such as the production and distribution of protective gear, vaccine supplies and distribution. The team will also help states with their own COVID-19 efforts.

The National Security Council team responsible for global health security and biodefense has also been re-established.

Psaki noted the president intends to hold another briefing Thursday to include more details of the administration’s efforts to combat the pandemic. Psaki said Biden “remains committed to invoking the Defense Production Act,” and will discuss that on Thursday.

President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The vaccine problem

Meanwhile, vaccinations continue even as the new administration settles in. Operation Warp Speed officials previously said the states were able to obtain roughly 4 million doses per week, but that manufacturing was ramping up.

Former chief adviser Moncef Slaoui told CBS that both Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) are now producing 30 million doses per month.

But how the federal government and the new administration will engage and help speed up production and administration remains to be seen.

The WHO, meanwhile, is poised to approve several vaccine options globally, including those from China, Russia, and India.

New faces in town

New U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky took the helm of the agency Wednesday, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

“Better, healthier days lie ahead. But to get there, #COVID19 testing, surveillance, and vaccination must accelerate rapidly. We must also confront the longstanding public health challenges of social and racial injustice and inequity that have demanded action for far too long,” Walensky said on Twitter.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins remains in charge of the agency. Meanwhile, acting leadership of the new administration includes Janet Woodcock at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Liz Richter at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). Biden nominee Xavier Becerra is awaiting confirmation to lead the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

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