Last week Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Among the multitude of issues his administration is expected to address is a plan for making the COVID-19 pandemic a priority. This entails a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan intended to end “a crisis of deep human suffering.” The inauguration marks day one of the implementation of this plan.
A plan of this nature is not unilateral, so the guidance from public health professionals factored into the decision making. Of the $1.9 trillion dollars in the plan, roughly $400 billion is for public health efforts. The rest is for economic relief and to aid states and localities as public health efforts are implemented. This week, let’s look at the rationale for public health measures and the intended outcomes.
- One of the Biden administration’s most ambitious efforts is to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days in office. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have viewed successfully combating COVID-19 by reaching “herd immunity.” This is accomplished in one of two ways. Either people get the disease and recover, meaning they cannot get ill from it again because the immune system adjusts, or people get vaccinated. We now know that there are multiple strains of the virus, so getting a recurrent case of COVID-19 is a possibility. This makes getting the vaccine even more important. The medical community believes that each of the COVID-19 vaccines covers all of the known strains of the virus. In Biden’s plan, the intention remains to vaccinate the most vulnerable and front-line workers first before making it available to the general public. Large quantities of the vaccine have already been sent to these groups.
- The plan also provides funds to expand testing, which is key to reopening the economy and schools. One of the concerns that emerged with COVID-19 is that when people get it, they can be contagious before they present any symptoms. When people assume normal routines of going to work/school, running errands, exercising, and other activities, there’s the possibility that they may spread the virus to others without knowing. Expanding testing enables us to better identify positive cases so that they can quarantine themselves and recover, further reducing the spread. This may mean testing more of the general public regardless of whether or not they are presenting with symptoms.
- 100,000 public health workers are supposed to be hired. Their primary job responsibilities would be to conduct contact tracing and encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Contact tracing involves communicating with people who test positive to figure out who else may have been infected from a positive case, and assessing routines for broader trends. Through contact tracing, we may be able to determine if there's commonality between cases and where they’ve been. Trends of this nature could indicate that a site visit is warranted. Encouraging people to get the vaccine is likely the hardest of the two responsibilities. Vaccine hesitancy is already a challenge, but more so for people who distrust the medical community.
- Boosting our investment in genetic sequencing is a proactive priority in the Biden plan. Having multiple strains of COVID-19 now may indicate that more mutations are on the horizon. If other countries begin to see cases of COVID-19, we need to sequence the genetic material to determine if it’s a new strain. If there are new strains we can address our foreign policy accordingly.
The urgency of addressing the pandemic means that the Biden administration’s plans will be rolled out as soon as possible. Fortunately, change is happening at a point where vaccines have already been developed and approved, so mobilization is the priority for his most ambitious goal. The next month or so should reveal how the plan is going, and what new measures may be implemented to slow the spread in 2021.