The death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to pass 500,000 at some point next month, President Biden said, in remarks that offered a whiplash from the previous administration.
He added that his administration would need months “to turn things around” from the Trump administration, which eschewed a federal role when it came to confronting the pandemic and botched many of the limited programs it did attempt.
In the remarks, Biden focused on two elements of fighting the pandemic: improving vaccine rollout to hit his administration’s goal of 100 million shots delivered in his first 100 days in office, and enacting measures to control the spread of the virus.
On the latter point, Biden signed an executive order mandating mask-wearing on planes, trains, and buses. He also asked Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office.
“It’s a patriotic act,” Biden said. “They’re the single best thing to do because [vaccines] take time to work.”
Biden also elaborated on his vaccine distribution plan, which will see a beefed up federal role in coordinating the response to the virus. Biden said that he had directed FEMA to create a “COVID response liaison” for each state, and that the government would hire vaccinators “to meet the nation’s needs” amid a national shortage in people available to vaccinate.
He added that his administration would “move heaven and Earth” to meet the vaccination goal.
Later in the day, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Tony Fauci described the Biden vaccination plan as “taking what’s going and amplifying it” but denied that the effort was “starting from scratch.”
“If we get the majority of Americans, 70-85 percent, vaccinated by [autumn], we could have a degree of herd immunity that would get us back to normal,” Fauci added.