Joe Biden has created a war-cabinet-in-waiting on the coronavirus pandemic, with major figures from the Obama, Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations drafting plans for distributing vaccines and personal protective gear, dramatically ramping up testing, reopening schools and addressing health-care disparities.
The effort began six months ago when the campaign consulted David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents Bush and Bill Clinton, and Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general under President Barack Obama, on how to run a presidential campaign during a pandemic.
The pair, along with a growing cadre of volunteer health experts, has been working behind the scenes to craft plans that could take effect Jan. 20, when the next president will take the oath of office, said Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser on the Biden campaign.
Biden has laid out a far more muscular federal approach than has President Trump, whose “failures of judgment” and “repeated rejection of science” the Democrat first pilloried in a Jan. 27 op-ed about the crisis. Biden has said that he would urge state and local leaders to implement mask mandates if they are still needed, create a panel on the model of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Production Board to boost testing, and lay out detailed plans to distribute vaccines to 330 million people after they are greenlighted as safe and effective.
The Democratic presidential nominee’s “public pronouncements are not just about laying out an agenda for voters, but giving shape to an operational plan that he’s already starting to think about now for what Day One is going to look like,” Sullivan said.
Yet experts caution that even the best-laid plans will be challenged in a politically fractured nation where rampant disinformation about the novel coronavirus — often exacerbated by Trump himself — has complicated efforts to have people follow safety protocols like wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“A lot of it is going to be out of Biden’s hands,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said of renewing faith in federal health officials. “It’s going to take time, and he is going to have to demonstrate that he’s restoring these agencies to their prior reputations through actions.”