Elected President Joe Biden urged Americans on Monday to wear a mask to help the country get the coronavirus pandemic under control, save lives, and allow communities to reopen schools and businesses.
Biden made his comments hours later Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine was over 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 in people with no evidence of previous infection.
“It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before election day. It doesn’t matter whether you have a party or not,” he said. “We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone only wore one mask for the next few months.”
Biden’s comments came as the coronavirus rose across the country. Epidemiologists and medical experts warn that the worst days of the pandemic are yet to come. According to a CNBC analysis of the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the country reported more than 105,900 new cases on Sunday, an increase in the seven-day average of over 108,700. This corresponds to an increase of more than 33% compared to a week ago.
Biden said bold action is needed to fight the pandemic as the country faces a “very dark winter”.
“Please, I beg you, wear a mask,” said Biden. “Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask isn’t a political statement, but it’s a great way to bring the country together.”
US President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters about efforts to fight coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after meeting members of his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board on November 9, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware, USA.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Biden’s statements are in stark contrast to those of the President Donald Trumpwho refused to wear a mask in public for months at the start of the pandemic.
Senior health officials including Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said masks are one of the best ways to control the spread of the virus. However, wearing masks has become a political hotspot in much of the United States, and local and state mandates to wear a mask in public are debated.
“I want to be very clear: the goal of wearing masks is not to make your life less comfortable or to take something away from you,” said Biden on Monday. “It’s giving something back to all of us, a normal life.”
Biden also said he would increase the availability of rapid diagnostic tests across the country. The Trump administration has increased testing significantly since the outbreak began, but some public health specialists say the administration should have invested more in testing. Proponents of more widespread testing say it helps identify infectious individuals who can then quarantine and cut chains of transmission before they become outbreaks.
In addition to testing, Biden said he is building “a corps of contact tracers that will track and contain this disease.”
Contact tracking is the process Trained personnel train people who have tested positive for the virus and identify other people who may have been exposed and infected. It has long been used to contain infectious diseases like tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, but it was never used to the extent required by the pandemic.
World Health Organization officials have repeatedly urged countries to expand their contact tracing infrastructure and have the opportunity to fully test the coronavirus.
Infectious disease specialists from Johns Hopkins University and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials proposed a plan in early April to step up national testing and tracking efforts. It would take a workforce of 100,000 people the proposal saidand cost $ 3.6 billion.
Biden also pledged to boost production of personal protective equipment such as medical gowns, masks and gloves that will help health workers avoid infections when treating Covid-19 patients. On the website of the President-Elect’s Transition Team, Biden says he’s planning it “Take full advantage of the Defense Production Act” to increase the supply of PPE.
The Data Protection Authority is a World War II-era law that allows the President to force the private sector to manufacture devices of national security importance. Trump relied on making devices such as ventilators earlier in the pandemic.
The previous Monday, Biden announced the members of his 12-person person Covid-19 “Advisory Board”. It includes prominent infectious disease specialists and global health professionals. The board is headed by the former general surgeon Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Commissioner for Food and Drug Administration Dr. David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University jointly directed.
The board also includes Dr. Rick Bright, the vaccine expert and whistleblower resigned from the Trump administration last month. Bright previously headed the powerful agency for advanced biomedical research and development before allegedly being withdrawn for pushing back White House guidelines.
Another member of the committee, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on CNBCs Monday “Squawk Alley“just before Biden spoke that country is “about to enter Covid Hell.”
“We haven’t even come close to the summit and as such our hospitals are now being overrun,” said Osterholm. “The next three to four months will be by far the darkest of the pandemic.”