The AP has called the presidential election. Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. No matter what chaos ensues with recounts, legal fights, and unhappiness from the bully pulpit, one factor is certain to define Biden’s early days as president: the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has been at the center of Biden’s campaign over the past several months, and for good reason. The U.S. shattered records on Thursday with more than 121,000 COVID-19 cases, the highest number of cases recorded in one day, according to Johns Hopkins University. Experts fear cases will continue to surge as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors.
Meanwhile, Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic, opposed public health officials like Anthony Fauci, and criticized evidence-based precautions such as masks. Biden promises to do better. But what does better look like? Four areas float to the top as means to employ to curb case numbers, and whether the next President is likely to use them. If the focus aims at these four, Joe Biden may be writ into history books as the president who defeated the pandemic.
1. Masks, masks, and more masks
Cloth masks not only decrease the risk that a person will transmit the virus, but they also decrease the wearer’s risk of getting infected. Researchers in one study of 15 states and Washington D.C. estimated that their mask mandates prevented 200,000 COVID-19 cases before May 22. To Trump’s credit, public health experts didn’t know this in the beginning of the pandemic. But even when the science became clear, Trump mocked masks and fueled a culture of anti-maskers. He even disparaged masks days before he was diagnosed with COVID-19 himself.
Biden has been vocal about listening to the experts about science, including the science on masks. He also leads by example with his own mask-wearing. It’s “just the public image of a responsible adult doing what they’re supposed to do,” Cedric Dark, an emergency medicine physician at the Baylor College of Medicine, told Vox. In terms of policy, a national mask mandate has questionable legality. However, Biden could establish financial incentives for the 16 states without a mask mandate to adopt one, Vox reports.
2. Let public health officials make public health policy
Trump is famously skeptical of science, from climate change to COVID-19 transmission. He has repeatedly called the experts into question and even threatened to fire Fauci after the election. A Trump appointee interfered in COVID-19 reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration have criticized the Trump Administration’s interference in the FDA approval of a vaccine. These actions have spurred on public distrust of science, and they could damage trust in a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available.
It will take a lot of work for Biden to rebuild the trust in science that Trump destroyed. According to Biden’s campaign website, he plans to “Ensure that public health decisions are made by public health professionals and not politicians, and officials engaged in the response do not fear retribution or public disparagement for performing their jobs.” But that will just be the start. The U.S. needs “a long campaign to get people to trust science again,” Dark said.
3. Expand testing
Trump has passed the burden of testing to states, which have less resources to increase testing capacity. He has also asked to “slow the testing down, please” and falsely claimed that testing creates COVID-19 cases. Better testing will allow the country to better control the virus, and it can save lives when people are diagnosed in the early stage of their illness. Biden’s COVID-19 response plan includes free and widely available testing. One of the ways he plans to get there is by establishing at least ten mobile testing sites and drive-through facilities per state. To address the issue, he will also need to deploy federal resources to fix the faulty testing supply chain.
4. Shut down businesses and offer financial help
The Trump administration advocated for federal unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs during COVID-19. The administration also pushed to issue $1,200 stimulus checks to eligible adults and their families. But all of the benefits have run out and have not been renewed — and now the coronavirus is at peak spread and the president needs to push for action to be taken. With this, he’ll also need to push for new rounds of stimulus. The federal government is currently in talks to shell out another round and Biden will need to continue the push to support to hard-hit individuals and small businesses. Without it, people will be forced to take on risky work, such as hospitality that could increase the spread. Restaurants and bars need to close when cases surge. Stimulus needs to be there so that this can happen.
Biden is currently pushing for a plan includes creating an automatically renewing relief fund so that political debates don’t stall people from getting the money they need. He also wants to give 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and expand emergency unemployment. All of this may be hard to do with Republicans controlling the Senate, and the Democrats may need to compromise to get measures such as these to pass, but it will be necessary.