WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s early burst of executive action will continue Thursday as he signs 10 orders and other directives aimed at jump-starting the administration’s national strategy to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.
After signing 15 executive orders Wednesday, Biden intends to use his first full day in office to use executive authority to require masks in most planes, trains and airports, order a national strategy to reopen schools and create a new “testing board” to expand testing for the virus.
The president will also invoke the Defense Production Act to boost the supply of testing and vaccination supplies, among a range of other orders and directives.
Each is a plank in Biden’s plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic – dubbed the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness – unveiled Thursday. The White House billed the strategy as a “nationwide” approach to combat the virus after former President Donald Trump left states in charge of things including administering vaccines and purchasing protective equipment for health care workers.
“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let a alone a comprehensive approach to respond to COVID,” said Jeff Zients, Biden’s White House coronavirus response coordinator. “And we’ve seen the tragic costs of that failure. As President Biden steps into office, that all changes.”
Zients called the plan the “culmination of months of efforts” from Biden’s team to create a strategy that will “fundamentally change the course of this pandemic,” adding that the strategy is driven by “science, data and public health,” not politics.
“This is a national emergency, and we need to treat it accordingly. Defeating the virus requires a coordinated nationwide effort,” he said.
The White House acknowledged several priorities are contingent on passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that the administration wants Congress to pass quickly.
Biden also has a goal to administer 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days. He laid out four priorities to do so in a plan introduced last week: allow more people to be vaccinated; create more places for people to get vaccinated; mobilize more medical teams to vaccinate; and increase supply.
The new orders come after Biden signed three orders Wednesday focused on the pandemic: the creation of a COVID-19 coordinator who reports directly to the president, ending the withdrawal from the World Health Organization and requiring masks and social-distancing guidelines on federal property.
New orders and directives being signed Thursday are to:
1. Direct federal agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities, including invoking the Defense Production Act, to accelerate manufacturing and delivery to meet shortfalls in equipment and supplies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Establish the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board to bring the “full force of the federal government’s expertise” to expanding testing supply and increasing access to testing. The order includes directing federal agencies to facilitate testing free of charge for those who lack health insurance and to clarify insurers’ obligation to cover testing.
3. Direct new studies – including large-scale randomized trials – to identify treatments for COVID-19 with a focus on addressing the needs of diverse populations. The order will direct federal agencies to expand their data infrastructure to increase the collection and sharing of data to support an equitable COVID-19 response and recovery.
4. Direct a “a national strategy for safely reopening schools,” including requiring the Education and Health and Human Services departments to provide guidance on the safe reopening and operating of schools, child care providers and higher education institutions.
5. Require masks be worn in airports and certain modes of transportation such as many planes, trains, maritime vessels and intercity buses.
6. Establish a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to provide recommendations to the president for allocating resources and funding in communities with inequities in COVID-19 outcomes by race, ethnicity, disability and other considerations.
7. Restore full reimbursement to local government and schools districts – up from 75% currently – to support safe school reopenings through the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund.
8. Direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue updated guidance on COVID-19 worker protections.
9. Improve access to COVID-19 care and treatment. That includes outlining steps to bolster clinical care capacity, assist long-term care facilities and facilities for the disabled, increase health care workforce capacity and support access to COVID-19 therapies for the uninsured.
10. Oversee a complete inventory of the medical and vaccination supplies on-hand and what’s needed across the country.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.