- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 7, 2020

President Trump told voters they were “turning the corner” on the coronavirus but Americans are running smack into a pandemic that’s as daunting as ever, posing a challenge for presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden as he eyes the transition.

The nation has recorded over 100,000 new infections for four days running, smashing records, and hospitalizations are at their highest level since the midsummer surge in the South and West.

Survival rates are gradually improving as doctors use better treatments but the raw total of deaths continues to climb — over 900 people are dying per day, on average — because of widespread transmission, reaching a U.S. toll of over 237,000.

Some experts say politics might have gotten in the way of science, so there’s room for a national reset in the coming weeks and months.

“This can be an inflection point where we can start creating policy around how to actually tackle this virus in a meaningful way. I think that the election has probably distracted from it in a pretty serious way for months now,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Mina said he would like to see a clearer strategy on how to control the virus, starting with widespread, rapid testing and adequate marketing to get public buy-in for the effort. He said the belief that lockdowns are the only option is leading to “strife” and fear.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump said new lockdowns were off the table as the economy scrambled to regain its footing after a brutal year of rolling closures.

Blue-state governors from Wisconsin to New York aren’t “opening up” post-Election Day, as Mr. Trump predicted, though the president’s pledge to deliver a vaccine within “weeks” might be on-target.

Pfizer, for instance, has said it could seek emergency authorization of its candidate by the latter half of this month.

Efforts to control the pandemic through immunization will last well into 2021, however, leaving Americans with tough choices as they enter a pivotal holiday period and await a change in White House leadership.

Mr. Biden, who was projected as the winner Saturday, says the country needs to double down on basic mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and widespread testing to track the disease and break up chains of transmission.

His campaign posted a seven-point plan for tackling the virus that ranges from general pledges, such as vowing to “listen to the science,” to more specific calls to action, such as $25 billion for vaccine distribution and the establishment of a Pandemic Testing Board akin to Roosevelt’s War Production Board.

He’s calling for a “national mask mandate” that amounts to requiring face coverings on federal property and interstate transportation while pleading with governors and mayors to pass mandates within their borders.

Mr. Biden late Saturday said he will name a coronavirus task force Monday to tackle the virus, signaling the pandemic is an immediate priority. The 12-member team will include former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, according to Axios.

The effort “will be built on a bedrock [of] science,” Mr. Biden said in Delaware. “I will spare no effort, none, or any commitment to turn around this pandemic.”

The current White House recommends the use of masks in situations where people cannot socially distance. But it hasn’t backed a mandate, saying Americans are equipped to make their own decisions.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who frequently appears in public without a mask, tested positive for the virus Wednesday, according to Bloomberg News.

“Any positive case is taken seriously. Contact tracing has been conducted by the White House Medical Unit consistent with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines to stop further transmission. Appropriate notifications and recommendations have been made,” said deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere.

Mr. Trump says criticism of his pandemic performance, which weighed down his reelection bid, is misplaced, citing his efforts to protect the vulnerable at nursing homes, supply a surplus of ventilators and speed innovative therapeutics to hospitals.

He’s banking on groundbreaking antibody drugs in the regulatory pipeline to improve the situation during his final weeks in office — though he is challenging the election results in court. Those drugs might have to be rationed, once approved, since there will only be so many doses available.

The administration says 100 million doses of vaccine, meanwhile, will be ready before the end of the year, assuming the Food and Drug Administration gives the green light to candidates in the coming weeks.

“The development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible is emblematic of President Trump‘s highest priority, the health and safety of the American people,” said White House spokesman Michael Bars. “Importantly, any new vaccine must meet the FDA’s rigorous standards for quality, safety, and efficacy and will be verified in consultation with the independent experts of the vaccine advisory committee, which previously advised FDA on preventive vaccines for pneumonia, HPV, and hepatitis. The administration is sparing no effort or expense to save millions of lives.”

Mr. Trump will not be able to see through the vaccination campaign, unless his legal challenges suddenly reverse the projected outcome of the election.

Either way, virus will remain a challenge well into 2021.

“Fighting COVID will be the number one priority during the transition period. Governors, mayors, and public health officials need to encourage people to wear masks and respect social distancing rules,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Biden needs to appoint a coronavirus czar who can plan the transition and coordinate the work of others,” Mr. West said. “If we take things seriously, the case numbers should drop as we head into the sprin

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