The options are either an ineffective pandemic response—or an utterly catastrophic one.
Regardless of whether Democratic nominee Joe Biden manages to secure election to the presidency—and survive the subsequent legal assaults from the Republican Party—his administration would almost certainly be checked by a Republican Senate. That means the COVID-19 pandemic will rage on, unfettered by any robust federal action and only slowed in a few states where governors are determined to adhere to their public health guidance.
Still, even that would be preferable to President Donald Trump winning reelection. He has vowed to opt for a do-nothing approach to COVID-19, biding time until an effective vaccine is found and put to use. Access to the vaccine might well require health insurance, offering the possibility of a deliberate class-based survival rate in the American epidemic. Whether the Trump policy is labeled “herd immunity” or not doesn’t matter: It will boil down to allowing the virus to spread, on the assumption that fewer than 2 percent of the infected will die of COVID-19, and most of them will come from racial minorities and retired senior populations. There will be an unstated notion of “expendable” populations, dying amid rising overall societal immunity.
If Biden is sworn into the presidency on Jan. 20, 2021, he will greet an epidemic that may have caused well over 400,000 American deaths by that time and that will continue to rage across all 50 states. He will do battle with the Senate on every pandemic effort: working with the World Health Organization (WHO), joining the COVAXX global access commitment for vaccines and drugs, guaranteeing affordable access to COVID-19 medicines and coronavirus vaccines for all Americans and people in middle-income and poor countries. There will be no effective global strategy for COVID-19 control save building a bridge to a vaccine, and then fighting to immunize as much of the world as possible.