In the 24 hours since Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States, he has already rolled out a plethora of policy changes: rejoining the Paris climate accord, ending the Trump administration’s travel ban, and extending the moratorium on pandemic evictions. He’s also already done more to respond to the coronavirus pandemic than Trump did during his entire last year in office, announcing a response plan involving the signing of 10 executive orders and use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to help accelerate the process.
But the DPA is not technically a new plan — it was passed in 1950 during the Korean War and it gives the president the authority to “expedite and expand the supply of materials and services from the U.S. industrial base needed to promote the national defense.” In this case, what the nation needs to be defended from is COVID-19. Former President Trump also invoked the DPA to combat the pandemic, which he used to stop individuals from hoarding supplies, limit the export of medical supplies to other countries, and address some supply shortages. But Trump's use of the act was spotty and inconsistent, and experts argued he should have done more with it. Now, Biden plans to just that.
For Biden and his team, the DPA will allow them to respond more rapidly to a dire pandemic that has been woefully mismanaged by the outgoing administration. “For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to COVID,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said on a press call. In fact, Trump’s response was so inept that his administration never even created a plan for vaccine rollout; Biden’s team discovered they were inheriting a non-existent distribution plan for vaccinating Americans from the previous occupant of the White House just in the last day.
Biden’s team has already identified 12 immediate supply shortages, including for N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves and swabs needed for tests, as well as a need to increase production of things like syringes, which are necessary for administering the vaccine. One of the executive orders he signed on Wednesday required wearing masks on all federal properties, and his team says he plans to make masks mandatory on public transportation, as well. Biden’s plan also involves providing more funding at the state and local levels to combat the coronavirus.
“The team will work with the states and the manufacturers to ensure that we’re using the DPA as aggressively as needed to accelerate the supply of the vaccine,” Bechara Choucair, Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine coordinator said on the call with reporters.
An aggressive response to the pandemic cannot come soon enough for a country that has been ravaged by the virus thanks in large part to the failure of the federal government (the Trump administration never even released a national strategy). Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying every day of COVID-19 and the national death toll has risen to over 400,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A new, more infectious strain of the virus has been discovered in the U.S., making the country even more vulnerable. Thankfully, we now have a president who wants to do something about it.
“We must do this equitably. We cannot miss vaccinating communities that are hit hardest by the pandemic. This is going to have to be critical to our success,” Choucair said. “More people, more places, more supply. That's what this boils down to.”