/Joe Biden’s pandemic plan: mandatory face masks, paid sick leave, restoring Obamacare and free COVID-19 tests

Joe Biden’s pandemic plan: mandatory face masks, paid sick leave, restoring Obamacare and free COVID-19 tests

Joe Biden has a critical task ahead of him: containing COVID-19.

The former vice president, 77, will become the 46th U.S. president after 20 electoral votes from his native state of Pennsylvania gave him more than 270 electoral votes, according to projections by the Associated Press. He currently has 290 electoral votes to President Donald Trump’s 214. Sen. Kamala Harris will become both the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president.

AP, CNN, Fox News, ABC DIS, +0.39%, NBC, CBS and others also projected Biden’s win: From his home in Wilmington, Del., Biden tweeted: “America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country. The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a President for all Americans — whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”

Trump, a Republican, becomes the first incumbent to lose re-election since George H.W. Bush, also a Republican, in 1992. Trump, 74, has not conceded the race. His campaign filed lawsuits in key states including Nevada and Pennsylvania, seeking to stop ballot counting, and has vowed more lawsuits. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus was seen as a key factor in Biden’s win.

Analysts say there were two issues on the ballot: the economy and coronavirus. The two, of course, are now inevitably, critically intertwined. Biden has reportedly already started working on the transition of power with his team, including coordinating his strategy for COVID-19. It was reported Saturday that he would announce the formation of a pandemic task force as soon as Monday.

“ ‘Since the pandemic began, IDSA has called for a comprehensive and well-coordinated response rooted in the best available scientific data.’ ”

— Amanda Jezek, Infectious Diseases Society of America

As the world awaits the first vaccine and coronavirus infections surge, Biden has acknowledged that the pandemic will not end anytime soon, but he has said he will rely on the counsel of scientists and medical professionals. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic,” Biden said this month. “I do promise this: We will start on Day 1 doing the right things.”

While the U.S. makes up approximately 4% of the world’s population, it has had approximately 20% of all COVID-19 cases. As of Sunday, the U.S. had reported 9,900,788 COVID-19 infections and 237,288 deaths, just ahead of India (nearly 8,507,754 cases to date). To put that in context: The U.S. has a population of 328 million people versus 1.35 billion in India.

The U.S. daily tally of coronavirus infections rose by approximately 130,000 on Saturday, a fourth straight day of record-setting levels, as hospitals in rural areas of the Midwest and southern states including Texas and Florida continued to feel the strain. Daily fatalities from the disease were also up by 1,000 again for the fifth consecutive day, John Hopkins University reported.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America told MarketWatch that Biden’s plans for combating the pandemic reflects its own key tenets. “Since the pandemic began, IDSA has called for a comprehensive and well-coordinated response rooted in the best available scientific data,” said Amanda Jezek, IDSA’s senior vice president of public policy and government relations.

Jezek also said the IDSA supported Biden’s promise to update the public regularly. “Clear communication with the public is an essential component of efforts to control the pandemic. Collecting and sharing data in a transparent manner is important to build public trust and to help people make informed decisions to reduce their risk of transmission,” she added.

While the scientific community has traditionally stayed out of politics, the medical journal Nature endorsed Biden’s bid for the presidency and his pandemic plan. “He has shown that he respects the values of research, and has vowed to work to restore the United States’ fractured global relationships. For these reasons, Nature is endorsing Biden,” it said in an editorial on Oct. 3.

“Biden’s campaign has worked closely with researchers to develop comprehensive plans on COVID-19 and climate change,” it added. “He has pledged that decisions on the pandemic response will be made by public-health professionals and not by politicians; and he is rightly committing to restoring the ability of these professionals to communicate directly with the public.”

Echoing this sentiment, Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, private foundation in Menlo Park, Calif., cited Biden’s pledge to put “scientists and public-health leaders front and center” to communicate with the American public and to ensure the federal government has primary responsibility on the coronavirus.

Related: What a Joe Biden presidency means for taxes, health care, housing, student debt — and another COVID-19 stimulus package

Here is a summary of Biden’s pandemic plan:

1. Push for a national mask mandate

Speaking in Wilmington, while on the campaign trail, Biden vowed to push for more Americans to wear masks. “First, I’ll go to every governor and urge them to mandate mask wearing in their states, and, if they refuse, I’ll go to the mayors and county executives and get local mask requirements in place nationwide,” Biden said. Trump recently referred to mask wearing as “politically correct.”

Jezek said the IDSA supports this policy. “In August, IDSA began calling for a national mask mandate, as compelling scientific data indicate that masks significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” she said. “Further, modeling suggests that near universal masking could prevent 180,000 COVID-19 deaths. We continue to support a national mask mandate.”

2. Paid sick leave and caregiving leave

In addition to his pledge to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour from $ 7.25 an hour, Biden has said the pandemic has highlighted the lack of labor protections for millions of workers, such as paid sick and caregiving leave, and he advocates hazard pay, for essential workers who risk their health and are typically paid low wages.

President-elect Biden’s goal of strengthening the workforce needed to respond to COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics is laudable, and this workforce must include public health professionals, clinicians and scientists.” Jezek said. “Approximately 208 million Americans live in areas with little or no access to an infectious diseases physician.”

3. CDC tracker for coronavirus patients

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services temporarily changed the way hospitals reported critical information on the coronavirus pandemic to the government, taking the responsibility for data collection away form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After a backlash from public-health officials, however, the department reversed that decision in August.

Biden said wants more transparency. He said he will instruct the CDC to establish real-time dashboards tracking hospital admissions related to COVID-19, especially for ICUs and emergency departments, in concert with the American Hospital Association and large hospital chains and supply-chain information on personal protective equipment and other important supplies.

4. Protecting and restoring Obamacare

Protecting Obamacare will be one of the first priorities for President Biden. He previously expressed fears that a U.S. Supreme Court conservative 6-3 majority, made possible by newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, could finally dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and deprive millions of people of health-care coverage.

Some 7.7 million Americans who were laid off during the pandemic lost their employer-sponsored health coverage as of June. Those plans covered some 6.9 million of their dependents, impacting up to 14.6 million individuals, according to a report published by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports health-care issues.

5. Free COVID-19 tests for all

Biden has pledged free testing for all Americans, whether or not they have health insurance: that is, no co-payments, no deductibles, and no surprise medical billing. “We should be investigating a great deal more money in testing and tracing,” he told CBS News this month. “It’s not enough to know in seven days or five days or three days whether or not you have COVID.”

“IDSA agrees with increasing access to testing and testing capacity. In addition to ensuring that everyone who needs a test can get one, we must also improve turnaround time on tests to ensure results are sufficiently rapid to effectively inform contact tracing, isolation and quarantine,” Jezek said. “We also need a strategy to ensure a sufficient inventory of tests and testing supplies.”

Also see: Italy tightens COVID-19 restrictions, plunging Venice back into ‘victorious solitude’

Joe Biden during the campaign.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump has defended his response to the coronavirus pandemic. He issued a partial travel ban on China on Jan. 31, with initial reports having emerged in late 2019 of the outbreak in Wuhan, China. Trump followed up with more travel bans in February and March that covered Europe and other hot spots where the virus was showing signs of spiking.

The president said his “operation warp speed” vaccine development is on track. “Under my leadership, we’re delivering a safe vaccine and a rapid recovery like no one can even believe,” Trump said ahead of the election, one week after he himself recovered from COVID-19. “If you look at our upward path, no country in the world has recovered the way we have recovered.”

However, billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft MSFT, +0.19%  co-founder Bill Gates recently told a “Fox News Sunday” interview that the president’s partial travel ban on China and, later, other countries may have actually created a situation where people were rushing to get back to the U.S. and made the pandemic worse. “The ban probably accelerated that,” he said.

“ President Trump has defended his response to the pandemic. He issued a partial travel ban on China on Jan. 31, with initial reports having emerged in late 2019 of the outbreak in Wuhan, China. ”

“We created this rush and we didn’t have the ability to test or quarantine those people, so that seeded the disease here,” Gates said. He pointed to the two coasts, and said that travel from Asia and Europe cast the dye. “March saw this incredible explosion — the West Coast coming from China and then the East Coast coming out of Europe,” he added.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an expert in infectious diseases for the last four decades, has expressed concerns about a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza as the U.S. enters flu season, and urged Americans to get their flu shots.

Fauci has said that he’s hopeful that a coronavirus vaccine could be developed by early 2021, but has repeatedly said it’s unlikely that a vaccine will deliver 100% immunity. He said the best realistic outcome, based on other vaccines, would be 70% to 75% effective. The measles vaccine, he said, is among the most effective by providing 97% immunity.

Last week, the doctor said he did not endorse Trump, or any candidate. “In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci told CNN. “The comments attributed to me without my permission in the campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public-health officials.”

Returning to a life beyond COVID-19 won’t happen until “the end” of 2021, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist, adviser to Joe Biden and vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, told MarketWatch. “But it’ll probably be enough to begin opening colleges and universities [and] schools.” That too will depend on any vaccine, its distribution and its effectiveness.

To the end, AstraZeneca AZN, +0.65% in combination with Oxford University, BioNTech SE BNTX, and partner Pfizer PFE, +0.02% ; Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +1.78%, Merck & Co. MERK, +0.32%, Moderna MRNA, +1.35% ; Sanofi SAN, -0.92%, and GlaxoSmithKline GSK, +0.10% are among the companies currently working on vaccines.

Emanuel has been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic thus far. “We never had an efficient testing regime so we could quickly identify people, isolate them and prevent spread,” he added. “We didn’t have effective implementation uniformly across the country, with the public health measures: physical distancing, face-mask wearing, limiting crowds is critical to that.”

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