January 20, 2021 saw the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala D. Harris as the new Vice President. The top priority for the new Administration is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on ramping up vaccinations across the country with a goal of 100 million additional vaccination shots in the first 100 days of the new Administration. The new Administration comes into office as the global pandemic records its worst two weeks and records more than ten million confirmed new cases in the last fourteen days (through January 16). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 2 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases (total global cases 94.6 million, total deaths 2.037 million, new cases last 14 days 10.052 million). Deaths in the U.S. by January 21st have topped 416,000 and total new cases in the U.S. are over 25 million. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/. The number of doses of vaccines distributed in the U.S. was 35.99 million on January 20 with 16.524 million vaccinations provided. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html
In a busy first half day as President, President Biden signed seventeen Executive Orders, memoranda and other documents including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and notified UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres that the United States would remain a member of the World Health Organization. The January 20 letter to Secretary-General Gutteres is copied below and can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/letter-his-excellency-antonio-guterres/.
The Executive Order signed by President Biden is titled “Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security” and can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-organizing-and-mobilizing-united-states-government-to-provide-unified-and-effective-response-to-combat-covid-19-and-to-provide-united-states-leadership-on-global-health-and-security/. The purpose of the order is laid out in Section 1.
“Section 1. Purpose. The Federal Government must act swiftly and aggressively to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To that end, this order creates the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President and takes other steps to organize the White House and activities of the Federal Government to combat COVID-19 and prepare for future biological and pandemic threats. “
The other four sections of the Executive Order deal with “Organizing the White House to Combat COVID-19” (Section 2), “United States Leadership on Global Health and Security and the Global Health and Security and the Global COVID-19 Response” (Section 3), “Prompt Resolution of Issues Related to the United States COVID-19 Response” (Section 4) and general provisions (Section 5). Section 2 includes efforts by the Federal Government to beef up production and distribution of “personal protective equipment, vaccines, tests and other supplies” including through use of the Defense Production Act. Section 3 includes efforts to engage with and strengthen the World Health Organization.
The text of the Executive Order is reproduced below (quotation marks are not added).
Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security
January 20, 2021
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Purpose. The Federal Government must act swiftly and aggressively to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To that end, this order creates the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President and takes other steps to organize the White House and activities of the Federal Government to combat COVID-19 and prepare for future biological and pandemic threats.
Sec. 2. Organizing the White House to Combat COVID-19. (a) In order to effectively, fully, and immediately respond to COVID-19, there is established within the Executive Office of the President the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President (COVID-19 Response Coordinator) and the position of Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response. The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall report directly to the President; advise and assist the President and executive departments and agencies (agencies) in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic; coordinate all elements of the COVID-19 response; and perform such duties as the President may otherwise direct. These duties shall include:
(i) coordinating a Government-wide effort to reduce disparities in the response, care, and treatment of COVID-19, including racial and ethnic disparities;
(ii) coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to produce, supply, and distribute personal protective equipment, vaccines, tests, and other supplies for the Nation’s COVID-19 response, including through the use of the Defense Production Act, as amended (50 U.S.C. 4501 et seq.);
(iii) coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to expand COVID-19 testing and the use of testing as an effective public health response;
(iv) coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to support the timely, safe, and effective delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the United States population;
(v) coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to support the safe reopening and operation of schools, child care providers, and Head Start programs, and to help ensure the continuity of educational and other services for young children and elementary and secondary students during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
(vi) coordinating, as appropriate, with State, local, Tribal, and territorial authorities.
(b) The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall have the authority to convene principals from relevant agencies, in consultation with the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy (APDP) on matters involving the domestic COVID-19 response, and in consultation with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA) on matters involving the global COVID-19 response. The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall also coordinate any corresponding deputies and interagency processes.
(c) The COVID-19 Response Coordinator may act through designees in performing these or any other duties.
Sec. 3. United States Leadership on Global Health and Security and the Global COVID-19 Response. (a) Preparing to Respond to Biological Threats and Pandemics. To identify, monitor, prepare for, and, if necessary, respond to emerging biological and pandemic threats:
(i) The APNSA shall convene the National Security Council (NSC) Principals Committee as necessary to coordinate the Federal Government’s efforts to address such threats and to advise the President on the global response to and recovery from COVID-19, including matters regarding: the intersection of the COVID-19 response and other national security equities; global health security; engaging with and strengthening the World Health Organization; public health, access to healthcare, and the secondary impacts of COVID-19; and emerging biological risks and threats, whether naturally occurring, deliberate, or accidental.
(ii) Within 180 days of the date of this order, the APNSA shall, in coordination with relevant agencies, the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, and the APDP, complete a review of and recommend actions to the President concerning emerging domestic and global biological risks and national biopreparedness policies. The review and recommended actions shall incorporate lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and, among other things, address: the readiness of the pandemic supply chain, healthcare workforce, and hospitals; the development of a framework of pandemic readiness with specific triggers for when agencies should take action in response to large-scale biological events; pandemic border readiness; the development and distribution of medical countermeasures; epidemic forecasting and modeling; public health data modernization; bio-related intelligence; bioeconomic investments; biotechnology risks; the development of a framework for coordinating with and distributing responsibilities as between the Federal Government and State, local, Tribal, and territorial authorities; and State, local, Tribal, and territorial preparedness for biological events.
(b) NSC Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense. There shall be an NSC Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense, which shall be headed by a Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense. The Senior Director shall be responsible for monitoring current and emerging biological threats, and shall report concurrently to the APNSA and to the COVID-19 Response Coordinator on matters relating to COVID-19. The Senior Director shall oversee the Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council, which was established pursuant to Executive Order 13747 of November 4, 2016 (Advancing the Global Health Security Agenda To Achieve a World Safe and Secure From Infectious Disease Threats), and is hereby reconvened as described in that order.
(c) Responsibility for National Biodefense Preparedness. Notwithstanding any statements in the National Security Presidential Memorandum-14 of September 18, 2018 (Support for National Biodefense), the APNSA shall be responsible for coordinating the Nation’s biodefense preparedness efforts, and, as stated in sections 1 and 2 of this order, the COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall be responsible for coordinating the Federal Government’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Sec. 4. Prompt Resolution of Issues Related to the United States COVID-19 Response. The heads of agencies shall, as soon as practicable, bring any procedural, departmental, legal, or funding obstacle to the COVID-19 response to the attention of the COVID-19 Response Coordinator. The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall, in coordination with relevant agencies, the APDP, and the APNSA, as appropriate, immediately bring to the President’s attention any issues that require Presidential guidance or decision-making.
Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
On the White House webpage, there is a section on the Biden Administration’s priorities. The section on COVID-19 provides explanation of the actions perceived to be needed, including increased production of personal protective equipment and additional funding to help with vaccinations, keeping schools open and help state and local governments cope with the revenue shortfalls from the pandemic. See White House Priorities,COVID-19, The Biden-Harris plan to beat COVID-19, https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/covid-19//. The COVID-19 priority description is copied below.
“The American people deserve an urgent, robust, and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. President Biden believes that the federal government must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders, and caregivers essential to help us face this challenge, those who are most vulnerable to health and economic impacts, and our broader communities – not to blame others or bail out corporations.
“The Biden-Harris administration will always:
“Listen to science
“Ensure public health decisions are informed by public health professionals
“Promote trust, transparency, common purpose, and accountability in our government
“President Biden and Vice President Harris have a seven-point plan to beat COVID-19.
“Ensure all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing.
“Double the number of drive-through testing sites.
“Invest in next-generation testing, including at home tests and instant tests, so we can scale up our testing capacity by orders of magnitude.
“Stand up a Pandemic Testing Board like Roosevelt’s War Production Board. It’s how we produced tanks, planes, uniforms, and supplies in record time, and it’s how we will produce and distribute tens of millions of tests.
“Establish a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to mobilize at least 100,000 Americans across the country with support from trusted local organizations in communities most at risk to perform culturally competent approaches to contact tracing and protecting at-risk populations.
“Fix personal protective equipment (PPE) problems for good.
“President Biden is taking responsibility and giving states, cities, tribes, and territories the critical supplies they need.
“Fully use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of masks, face shields, and other PPE so that the national supply of personal protective equipment exceeds demand and our stores and stockpiles — especially in hard-hit areas that serve disproportionately vulnerable populations — are fully replenished.
“Build immediately toward a future, flexible American-sourced and manufactured capability to ensure we are not dependent on other countries in a crisis.
“Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic – and the resources for schools, small businesses, and families to make it through.
“Social distancing is not a light switch. It is a dial. President Biden will direct the CDC to provide specific evidence-based guidance for how to turn the dial up or down relative to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in a community, including when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces; when to open or close schools, and what steps they need to take to make classrooms and facilities safe; appropriate restrictions on size of gatherings; when to issue stay-at-home restrictions.
“Establish a renewable fund for state and local governments to help prevent budget shortfalls, which may cause states to face steep cuts to teachers and first responders.
“Call on Congress to pass an emergency package to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to COVID-19.
“Provide a ‘restart package’ that helps small businesses cover the costs of operating safely, including things like plexiglass and PPE.
“’THIS ISN’T ABOUT POLITICS. IT’S ABOUT SAVING LIVES.’“PRESIDENT BIDEN, SEPTEMBER 16, 2020
“Plan for the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines — because development isn’t enough if they aren’t effectively distributed.
“Invest $25 billion in a vaccine manufacturing and distribution plan that will guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.
“Ensure that politics plays no role in determining the safety and efficacy of any vaccine. The following 3 principles will guide the Biden-Harris administration: Put scientists in charge of all decisions on safety and efficacy; publicly release clinical data for any vaccine the FDA approves; and authorize career staff to write a written report for public review and permit them to appear before Congress and speak publicly uncensored.
“Ensure everyone — not just the wealthy and well-connected — in America receives the protection and care they deserve, and consumers are not price gouged as new drugs and therapies come to market.
“Protect older Americans and others at high risk.
“President Biden understands that older Americans and others at high-risk are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Establish a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, as proposed by Vice President Harris, to provide recommendations and oversight on disparities in the public health and economic response. At the end of this health crisis, it will transition to a permanent Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force.
“Create the Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard that Americans can check in real-time to help them gauge whether local transmission is actively occurring in their zip codes. This information is critical to helping all individuals, but especially older Americans and others at high risk, understand what level of precaution to take.
“Rebuild and expand defenses to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats, including those coming from China.
“Immediately restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, originally established by the Obama-Biden administration.
“Immediately restore our relationship with the World Health Organization, which — while not perfect — is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.
“Re-launch and strengthen U.S. Agency for International Development’s pathogen-tracking program called PREDICT.
“Expand the number of CDC’s deployed disease detectives so we have eyes and ears on the ground, including rebuilding the office in Beijing.
“Implement mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors and by asking the American people to do what they do best: step up in a time of crisis.
“Experts agree that tens of thousands of lives can be saved if Americans wear masks. President Biden will continue to call on:
“Every American to wear a mask when they are around people outside their household.
“Every Governor to make that mandatory in their state.
“Local authorities to also make it mandatory to buttress their state orders.
“Once we succeed in getting beyond this pandemic, we must ensure that the millions of Americans who suffer long-term side effects from COVID don’t face higher premiums or denial of health insurance because of this new pre-existing condition. The Biden-Harris Administration will work to ensure that the protections for those with pre-existing conditions that were won with Obamacare are protected. And, they will work to lower health care costs and expand access to quality, affordable health care through a Medicare-like public option.”
While significant parts of the full-throated Biden plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic will require Congressional action on a stimulus package ($1.9 trillion is what is being sought by the Biden team), there are clear areas of action that will take place including increased use of the Defense Production Act to ensure adequate supplies of PPEs to address the needs of all communities in the United States. The U.S. will now have a national plan for both reducing the spread of the virus and for expanding the ability to achieve the desired level of vaccinations. The U.S. will work with the WHO and other members to make the WHO more effective and will participate in COVAX to help ensure vaccine availability for all peoples. The U.S. will also reinstate the efforts to improve detecting and tracking viruses around the world and developing a better prevention and response effort.
Without Congressional action on a significant stimulus package in the coming weeks, the U.S. economy will likely suffer significant contraction as employment levels, already at levels depressed from those when President Trump took office in 2017, will continue to worsen, millions of Americans will be forced from homes and apartments, and tens of thousands of additional business will fold. The Biden plan offers hope that a national plan with cooperation from the states will lead to a curbing of the pandemic and hopefully by the third or fourth quarter of 2021, a return to a more normal state of life for Americans. With the tremendous contraction in some sectors of the U.S. and global economies (e.g., tourism), the Biden plan offers hope of revival as the year progresses.
U.S. engagement with the WHO and participation in COVAX will help improve the global ability to respond to the pandemic in particular by improving the likelihood that vaccines will be available to peoples in all countries as the year progresses.
While economists generally don’t support the concept of onshoring production of particular products, the use of the Defense Production Act to expand production of PPEs that are or are likely to be in short supply will expand global supplies which should be of assistance to other countries as well as the U.S. as the global surge of cases continues.
Nothing in the first day’s activities by the Biden Administration was directly aimed at the World Trade Organization or trade relations. However, the intent of the Biden Administration to work with allies and within multilateral organizations and treaties — as seen in the rejoining of the Paris Climate Agreements and retraction of the notice of withdrawal from the WHO — suggest that the Biden team will be looking for ways to strengthen the WTO while addressing core U.S. concerns.