The story of Donald Trump’s four years as president is not only about the narcissism and norm-breaking of our nation’s leader, but the sheer and sometimes willful incompetence of his administration. That’s never been more apparent than with COVID-19. America has suffered unnecessary devastation because Trump treated the virus as a political threat more than a health crisis, but also because his administration was ill-equipped structurally and philosophically to properly confront it.
That, we hope, is about to change. President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 plan, announced late last week, marshals the nation’s resources and expertise to more robustly address this deadly pandemic. It’s the kind of large-scale assault on an urgent problem that Americans have long expected from their government, and it’s poised to help states like North Carolina in places where the Trump administration fell critically short.
Most helpful and urgent is vaccination distribution. North Carolina, like many states, has struggled initially to get the vaccine to the people who need it. In part because of an early decision to rely on under-resourced county health departments for distribution, our state continues to lag behind most. As of late last week, North Carolina ranked 45nd in the nation in the percentage of its available vaccines that have been administered: 27.66 percent.
The Biden plan will address vaccination rollout issues by using the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of community vaccination centers across the country and deploy mobile units to under-served areas. The federal government will reimburse states using the National Guard to help with vaccinations, and Biden wants to expand who can deliver the vaccine, including retired medical personnel. The administration is even exploring using the Defense Authorization Act to potentially mass-produce a syringe that squeezes additional doses out of Pfizer’s vaccine.
Biden also says the vaccine will be free to all members of the public, regardless of their immigration status, and he will address vaccine hesitancy with a national public relations education campaign.Most critically, the new administration plans to attack the virus with a $50 billion investment in a robust testing and contract tracing infrastructure that includes more rapid testing, expanded laboratory capacity and aid to schools that conduct regular testing. Schools also will get $130 billion so that they can become structurally safer from COVID transmission.
Unlike the Trump administration, the president-elect will complement the public health efforts of governors like Roy Cooper, who has stressed the importance of individual behavior to slow the spread of COVID. According to reports, Biden will quickly announce a mask mandate for federal properties and interstate transportation, and he already has begun to publicly reassert the voice of medical experts and public health officials. Americans should be more confident they will get an honest, science-based accounting of the landscape before them, not politically driven assurances that we are “turning the corner” on COVID.
Certainly, the Biden plan will face hiccups and challenges, but so much of it — from testing to information to vaccine distribution — is infuriatingly unremarkable. It’s what a functioning government should at least try.
In a way, it’s also a test. Outside of Operation Warp Speed’s success with vaccine development, the Trump administration largely left COVID to the states — an approach that aligns with Republican and conservative ideology. Biden’s plan signals a different and unsurprising philosophy — that the federal government can and should rise to meet a public crisis with expertise and robust resources.
We don’t believe government is the answer to all woes, but we do know this much: Trump’s approach to COVID hasn’t worked. States have been left unprepared and unsupported to address critical COVID needs. North Carolina’s members of Congress should support Biden’s plan, which also calls for additional COVID relief for Americans. It’s well past time for a new approach.
Today’s editorial is from The News & Observer. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.