What is the most important step Joe Biden can immediately take to address COVID?

USA TODAY, Opinion columnists
·12 min read

The USA TODAY Opinion section asked members of our Board of Contributors, "What is the most important step Joe Biden can immediately take to address COVID?"

Stand firm and lead

Biden pandemic relief package is a strong starting point signaling that his administration plans to do not only what it can but what is necessary to curb this crisis. He also has to send a strong signal to Congress and the nation that these vital solutions won’t be politicized or picked apart, holding firm on his proposal and bringing along every Democrat and maybe even some Republicans in support. The last president divided us while exploiting and exacerbating the virus of political motives. This president can indeed unite us around our common suffering and competent solutions — if he stands firm and leads.

Sally Kohn is the author of "The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity." You can find her online at sallykohn.com and on Twitter: @SallyKohn

Disentangle the pandemic from politics

In dealing with the COVID crisis, top priority for the new Biden administration should be disentangling the pandemic from politics. At the moment, too many of my fellow-Republicans fail to take the Corona Virus as seriously as they should; the more urgently Democrats press for precautions and vaccinations, the less conservatives tend to trust these governmental initiatives. To reduce partisan skepticism, President Biden could name a high-profile Republican to a visible position in the re-constituted COVID 19 task force. Mike Pence, unemployed after Wednesday, might be an effective choice, bringing worthwhile experience (much of it frustrating) from his role coordinating the Trump administration’s response. Biden should also emphasize coordination with Republican governors wherever possible, while avoiding any criticism of his predecessor’s record, no matter how deserving of disparagement it might be. Above all, team Biden must emphasize that masks, social distancing, vaccines and testing aren’t just a blue state, Democratic obsession; a more vigorous, non-partisan, federal response can simultaneously improve the nation’s physical and political health.

Michael Medved hosts a daily, syndicated talk radio show and is author, most recently, of "God's Hand On America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era." Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW

End the strict lockdowns

Joe Biden should use the power of his office to encourage governors to end strict lockdowns in their states. A new peer-reviewed international scientific study found that countries that imposed drastic lockdown measures have fared no better in controlling COVID-19 than countries that have used common-sense measures like social distancing and protecting the most vulnerable, at-risk population groups. Lockdowns have not stopped the spread of the disease, now in its second, and more deadly global wave. But lockdowns have destroyed small businesses, increased suicide rates, and left the country in a climate of depression and hopelessness. Even lockdown enthusiast Gov. Andrew Cuomo has finally realized that New York must ease its restrictions soon or they “will have nothing left to open.” And Cuomo said this even as active COVID-19 cases in New York are at record highs, almost three times their initial peak last July. Reopening the economy will do more to spur economic recovery than repeated, fiscally irresponsible, budget-busting multi-trillion dollar stimulus bills, that offer meager handouts to everyday Americans while providing billions to corporations and insiders. History will record the response to coronavirus as the greatest public policy fiasco of modern times. Joe Biden can make his mark by moving past the failed lockdown/stimulus model to let the American people rescue the economy and themselves through using common-sense safety measures until vaccines stem the coronavirus tide.

James S. Robbins, author of "This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive," has taught at the National Defense University and the Marine Corps University and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins

"Today, we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy," President Joe Biden says.
"Today, we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy," President Joe Biden says.

Duty to get the vaccine

President-elect Biden has a COVID-19 plan and an impressive team of scientists and medical advisors. Now he needs to get all Americans engaged in the fight against the deadly virus. The most important step he can take is to devise a national campaign to educate the public about everything from the importance of wearing masks to the safety of the vaccine. Under Trump, such messaging was largely left to the media and state and local governments. But the absence of consistent, accurate information from the federal government meant that a public health crisis became politicized. Although the Pew Center reports that 60% of Americans say they will get the vaccine, there is resistance among some demographics to doing so. Some members of communities of color, for example, are wary about engaging with the government. Biden can address this with a massive information campaign. This will be critical to counter the disinformation and vaccine skepticism that already exist. The campaign must include targeted communications to reach the African American and Latinx communities, and to reassure immigrants that their personal information will remain confidential. His administration must drive the point home that that eradicating COVID-19 is our personal, civic, and patriotic responsibility.

Raul A. Reyes is a New York attorney Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.

Protect us from ourselves

It is obvious that he needs to address vaccine supply and disbursement and increase accessibility to rapid, accurate, self-testing, and improve mask and distancing compliance, so let me state the slightly less obvious: the most important thing that Biden must do is address and prevent our ridiculous tendency as a country to gather in large groups. This is a national emergency, a national disaster, has been for almost a year now. Respiratory viruses spread in groups, in crowds, the need to prevent spread of a virus this dangerous supersedes any other rights, first amendment or otherwise. There is no right to gather whether it is to celebrate a Biden victory, protest a Trump defeat, rally or riot on his behalf, engage in a motorcycle rally, riot, or grieve a murder. Everything has become so politicized that too often we fail to consider the public health consequences of our actions. The federal government must protect us from ourselves and more importantly, protect us from each other, whether this involves the police, the national guard, or even the military. Thou shalt not gather with a virus in thy midst.

Dr. Marc Siegel, a Fox News medical correspondent, is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. His latest book, "COVID: the Politics of Fear and the Power of Science," was published last month. Follow him on Twitter: @DrMarcSiegel

Ignore all criticism and move forward

The most important thing President Biden can do to take on COVID-19 is to ignore any and all criticism from anyone who still belongs to the GOP. Donald Trump not only failed to employ the full powers of the federal government to address the biggest health crisis of the century, but actively spread the virus through his misinformation and rallies. His party had the opportunity to remove him from office almost a year ago. Only one Republican Senator had the courage to convict. Now deaths from the virus in this country are about to exceed the American lives lost in World War II. Joe Biden prides himself on being able to work across the aisle. The current rules of the Senate make that a necessity. But after years of abetting Trump and refusing to act to fully fund the vaccine rollout until it was clear that Republicans might lose two Senate seats in Georgia, they've surrendered their role as the loyal opposition. Our new president should feel no compunction about doing whatever he can to get around GOP obstruction. Anything an elected Republican says about COVID-19, the Constitution, the deficit or anything should be accompanied by a laugh track.

Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is host of "The GOTMFV Show" podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP

Stop the lockdowns and shutdowns

Biden should condemn the lockdowns and shutdowns that have caused vast economic and social damage (soaring drug abuse, suicides, depression) while failing to prevent more than 100 million Americans from becoming infected with COVID (based on the CDC’s estimate in December that only 1 out of 7 of cases are reported). Biden should reproach teacher unions for blocking school reopening; low-income and minority students have been devastated and the “achievement gap” has ballooned. He should drop his National Mask Mandate: imposing the same policy on the New York subway and Idaho mountaintops makes no sense. Biden should recognize that promising to inject 100 million vaccines in 100 million arms in 100 days is a recipe for a bureaucratic train wreck. Government policies should focus on protecting the most vulnerable while minimizing the restrictions and losses imposed on everyone else. The past 10 months have proven that Pandemic Security Theater won’t save this nation.

James Bovard is author of "Attention Deficit Democracy." Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard

Be honest with the public

The most important step Joe Biden can take when it comes to COVID is to level with the American public. That will be difficult, not because Biden is disinclined to tell the truth but because telling the truth conflicts with a popular notion of what national unity requires. Since the threat of COVID appeared, the American government has systematically lied to its citizens, unnecessarily endangering our health and causing countless unnecessary deaths. Without publicly repudiating that policy and clearly articulating what is required to come back from it, Biden risks undercutting his sweeping plans to get America on track. Finally, we have effective vaccines, but we have no system to quickly produce or distribute the necessary quantities. Putting those systems in place will require the goodwill of the American public, as will garnering support for policies required to keep us safe until the vaccines take effect. The inclination will be to overlook the Trump Administrations cruel lies and failures and simply move on. That inclination would be predicated on the false premise that we can intelligently advance without a reckoning, without acknowledging the dimensions of the disaster Trumpism left behind. Unity can only emerge from truth, which America now desperately needs to hear.

Ellis Cose is author of "Democracy, If We Can Keep It: The ACLU’s 100-Year Fight for Rights in America" and "The Short Life and Curious Death of Free Speech in America." Follow Cose on Twitter: @EllisCose

Continue to model precautions

Three weeks into 2021, and COVID-19 has not magically disappeared with the new year. In fact, it’s worse than ever, and we are on track to surpass 400,000 deaths. The COVID-19 vaccines, which are by all measures a feat of modern scientific genius, are our main weapons and hope against the virus. But Joe Biden has the daunting task of inheriting a system in which less than 40% of available vaccines have been used and many states have implemented confusing and ineffective distribution. On day 1, the Biden Administration will need to show national leadership (which has been sorely lacking during this pandemic thus far) by providing funding, guidance, and an infrastructure for the vaccines to be widely distributed to the American public.

In addition, the best strategy that the new government can take is to make our citizens believe in science again. The vaccine is safe and effective – but we need everyone to take it. At the same time, as the rollout continues, we will still need to continue wearing masks and socially distancing to reduce unprecedented virus transmission. Everyone in the Biden administration will need to model this behavior until the country trusts our medical and scientific community again. This is the only way to end this pandemic and stop another from occurring.

Thomas K. Lew, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an attending physician of Hospital Medicine at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare. All expressed opinions are his own. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasLewMD

Time for transparency in the vaccine supply-chain

Given the lack of stringent Federal oversight of the vaccination from the manufacturer to patient to date, the Biden administration needs a transparent view into a supply-chain that is constituted by disparate stakeholders – manufacturers, shippers/transport, state/local governments, hospitals, doctors and patients. Biden’s team needs to correctly identify where in the supply-chain the bottle-neck is keeping the vaccine from the people that need and want it and monitor where every dose is. To accomplish this, the Biden COVID team should mandate that all vaccinations are tracked in a blockchain ledger from manufacturers to patients (and their health records). In order to vaccinate 100M citizens in 100 days, given the refrigeration requirements of the vaccines and them needing to be administered in two doses with a specific interval between those doses, tracking each vial of the vaccine in blockchain serves a few critical purposes. First, it gives a real-time view of each vial’s location in the supply-chain. Next, it gives the patient a view into not only what they are putting in their bodies, but also who handled it. Lastly, it helps establish the verification needed for any “vaccination passport” proposed for when people move about post-pandemic.

Dr. Erroll G. Southers is a professor of the Practice in National & Homeland Security.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What Biden needs to do about COVID: USA TODAY contributors