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WASHINGTON — Even many public health experts who celebrated President-elect Biden’s win this week turned their immediate focus to the crisis it might create: A 10-week transition period during which Covid-19 cases and deaths skyrocket, and the outgoing Trump administration doesn’t take additional action to stop the surge.

From a public health standpoint, the presidential election could not have come at a worse time. Health officials have long warned of a devastating winter, and case totals and deaths have spiked just as millions of Americans are set to congregate with their families over the holidays. President Trump’s persistent downplaying of the crisis, experts say, will continue to have deadly consequences — and as a result, leave Biden to inherit a country experiencing its worst Covid-19 crisis since the first recorded U.S. cases in late January.

“So many of us are worried that now that Biden has won, the Trump administration is going to take a scorched-earth approach,” said Saskia Popescu, a University of Arizona epidemiology professor and biodefense expert. “It’s going to be very, very scary.”

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Even as election officials counted votes this week, the U.S. set multiple new records for Covid-19 infections. Health officials reported 102,831 new cases on Wednesday, the first time the country’s case count topped 100,000. The country set another case record Thursday with 121,888, and yet another on Friday with over 126,480.

Trump advisers were largely unmoved. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who has come to serve as the de facto leader of Trump’s coronavirus response, has downplayed the record-setting total of new cases by highlighting the comparatively low death toll. On Wednesday, 1,097 Americans died of Covid-19. Another 1,210 died Thursday, and another 1,146 died Friday.

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Atlas’ rhetoric mirrors Trump’s closing campaign-trail message: That Covid-19 is overblown and poses minimal threat to most Americans. Now that Trump’s loss is official, the public health community has become fearful that his apathy for the ongoing pandemic will reach new heights, to deadly effect.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: It looks bad,” said Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine. “In a month, this country is going to be in a really bad place.”

The resulting void could leave Biden in a bind. Typically, a president-elect doesn’t publicly challenge the outgoing president on basic matters of governance until their inauguration. But a leadership vacuum at a critical point in the country’s pandemic response, Biden’s aides say, isn’t an option.

Many Biden health care advisers have already reached out to mayors and governors, and begun planning for a transition of power at health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration. But until Biden is inaugurated, he won’t have any formal power when it comes to mask mandates, the manufacturing of protective equipment for medical workers, or Covid-19 testing.

Instead, words will be his only weapon. Biden is widely expected to continue receiving regular pandemic briefings from a slate of advisers that includes Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general; Marcella Nunez-Smith, the Yale physician-researcher; Nicole Lurie, a top Obama administration pandemic-preparedness official; and Zeke Emanuel, a Biden adviser and Affordable Care Act architect.

That core group is likely to assume some public-facing role. If Biden appoints well-known public health experts to serve as de facto pandemic spokespeople, they could use their credibility to publicly stress the need for caution and compliance with public health guidelines in the weeks before Inauguration Day.

“I don’t know that he needs to name a CDC director, but he certainly needs to identify a couple of well-respected senior public health people who can begin to talk on a daily basis, from a science and public health point of view, with the American people,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “Start explaining what’s going on, what the science is — all the stuff we have not had from the current team.”

Even before he was formally projected as the winner of the election, Biden sought to contrast his concern for mounting Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths with Trump’s inattention. On Thursday, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a briefing from Biden’s Covid-19 advisers, and began his public remarks shortly after with a nod to the crisis. On Friday, Biden attempted to drive home his message, pledging to begin implementing his pandemic response plan immediately after his inauguration.

“We want everyone to know, on Day 1, we’re going to put our plan to control this virus into action,” he said during televised remarks. “We can’t save any of the lives … that have been lost, but we can save a lot of lives in the months ahead.”

Trump, meanwhile, did not mention the pandemic during his public appearances on election night and on Thursday evening. His coronavirus task force has held meetings and public briefings only sporadically in recent weeks, even as states have set new records for cases and hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has experienced another Covid-19 cluster: In the days following the election day, a number of aides tested positive for coronavirus, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who sought to keep the information from becoming public, Bloomberg reported.

The accelerating crisis has left many Biden advisers resigned to a grim reality: That they will likely take control of a crisis that will be difficult, if not impossible, to quickly slow.

“Somebody asked me if it was too late for the new administration to turn it around,” Lurie, the Biden campaign adviser, said in an interview on Election Day. “I don’t know, but I don’t think anyone expects a new administration just to throw up their hands and let people die.”

  • It is common knowledge that masks , social distancing, testing, and quarantine are effective ways to reduce the spread of viruses. Social distancing being extremely important. It has been used in almost all outbreaks. One outbreak for example is the Spanish flu. During that pandemic in Philadelphia, with no social distancing, 250 people per every 100,000 died at the flu’s peak. In St. Louis, with almost immediate social distancing, just over 50 per every 100,000 died at the flu’s peak. When Philadelphia implemented social distancing the number of deaths significantly. There will always be ignorant people that don’t know the facts or fools that don’t believe the facts. Think about Trumps base that is roughly 35% of our population. Had Trump extolled the benefits of wearing masks and social distancing there is no doubt that there would have been people spared the illness and also people who would not have died. Yes some would be stubborn if he would have urged these proven methods of precaution but remember how they believe everything he says. Remember he knew how dangerous and fatal this pandemic is back in late January or early February and he lied to the American people. He claims he didn’t want to create fear and panic. Unusual since his style of leadership is to create panic, fear, and division. Fear that protesters and looters will invade the suburbs. Fear created by conspiracy theories. Fear of Immigrants. Fear of voter fraud. Fear of socialism….. all of these unfounded.

  • I sincerely hope that (after 200 years of pretty much the same opposing 2-party options) the US has a rules-system that prevents an outgoing president of basically or purposely fully disrupting or boycotting any processes that ought to be done for the good of all US citizens. In other words: the exiting president should be blocked from being an ignorant A**. If the US does NOT have such a prevention measure / amendment, then the creation of it should be added to the very long list of political catching-up-to-2020.

  • What is scariest to me is that BIDEN-HARRIS were elected, not on policy or principle, but on hatred for PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP. We can now look forward to open borders, sanctuary cities, loss of jobs, exorbitant taxation, late term abortion. President TRUMP put everything in motion, and, as an RN, I know he followed appropriate guidelines, You are just another defiler.

  • Drop the politics folks. Ebola was nowhere near as contagious as Covid. High death rate but many MANY times much harder to catch because of its method of transmission. There is no valid comparison between the two.

    So we have a virus. THERE IS NO MAGIC CURE THAT KICKS IN JANUARY 20TH. Nationwide mask madate? Sure, that would help. My County already has a public place mask requirement and is considering going to a full mask madate whenevr you step outside of your house.

    Guess what? My county officials can go pound salt. My wearing a mask when mowing my lawn or taking a walk well away from people DOES NOTHING to stop this virus. The truth is that most counties have no legal method to enforce ANY type of masking requirement, so it is not enforced, The truth is that people have grown weary of all of the requirements and not seeing family so they disregard what and where they can. January 20th is not going to change that.

    So what else? Yes, the lockdowns worked and some countries have gone back to them. But at what economic cost? How many businesses closed as a result of lockdowns? My county and my State has RECORD numbers of new cases per day but leaders no longer have an appetite for lockdowns that were all the rage in the spring. I could point to politics for a part of that.

    The bottom line is that people will be people and this virus is not going to magically disappear when a new President steps into office. Another round of lockdowns will be fought by many businesses and citizens. A nationwide mask mandate will also be fought. Get ready for an interesting winter and most like the spring as well. The only advantage Biden will have is that we “should” have some sort of vaccine by then, but don’t expect people to flock to get it. I know I won’t. Mandate a vaccine? Require it to return to work? Yeah, that will go over well comrade….

  • Trump may try to behave himself if he wants to run in 2024. I don’t think he will ever again be nominated to run, let alone win, but he may want to. If he fouls his nest in these coming weeks, he will be remembered for it and will ruin any chances he may have.

  • TRANSLATION: Laying the groundwork for excuses as to why Uncle Joe will not fair any better than Trump when dealing with this virus. BTW, how long after Uncle Joe is sworn in and the MSM stops giving out their daily DEATH COUNT?

    • We keep hearing that case count and death counts will become a thing of the past when this or that happens. Trump said it would be on the 4th of November. Now it is Jan 20. C’mon Folks. Covid is a real thing and these are real deaths. The death count has slowed slightly and treatments have improved. This is all good but it is still dangerous. Donald Trumps ” Let them Eat Cake ” attitude has cost him the Presidency. I agree with the fact that mandates will not likely have much impact. What can work is a sway in public opinion. Saving your own health, or the health of another person is not a bad thing. It doesnt make one weak or less patriotic. I would actually like to see some positive reinforcement for mask wearing. Maybe even some random Cash Money. We can reduce the carnage.

  • Humans haven’t shown their smarter side dealing with this epic disaster. It obviously emanates from people’s mouths – is that really so hard to accept?

    • In more ways than one…. both in terms of COVID transmission and in terms of disinformation infection.

  • Prior to COVID-19 the federal pandemic plans, through administrations of both parties, relied on state and local governments to take the lead due to the fact that prevalence and resources vary throughout the country. No one expects there to be a global pandemic plan, they grasp that individual countries handle it in most cases: and in the case of the US individual states and locales. This is the United States of America, not the United People of America, we have a hierarchical system of government.

    Yes, we get that many people have a major hatred of Trump and wished to try to blame him for everything possible in order to get him out of office. I can understand that, I didn’t vote for Trump (nor for Biden either though). However: the election is over, you can stop campaigning and focus on the more important issue of rationally handling the virus and setting aside blind partisan hatred and focus on the best ways to help the public. Neither major party when in power did much to prepare for a pandemic, despite partisan claims that outsiders to the 2 major tribes don’t find credible. Gallup says more people consider themselves independents than consider themselves Democrat, or consider themselves Republican.

    Its time to stop pretending that the federal government has much of a role and that it makes much of a difference who is president in terms of most public health measures (issues regarding economic relief and funding for various things are a different story, and both parties play unproductive partisan games, and its unclear if there is gridlock with a GOP Senate if that’ll change much). The major difference it makes is regarding dong things like speeding up the approval of various healthcare related products, and if anything the GOP tends to be more inclined towards removing regulatory hurdles than the Democrats historically have been, but hopefully the crisis has led them to be more open to it.

    • I’ll add that its been odd that many were concerned with Trump’s authoritarian nationalist tendencies: and yet what seem to be impatient for is for a new president to take a more authoritarian approach to the virus, regardless for instance of whether the Constitution allows some of the federal actions many seem to wish to see rather than deferring to the states. Some folks don’t like the idea of putting all our eggs in one basket with a 1 size fits all national approach when conditions vary among the states and preferences vary among the people in different states as to the various tradeoffs that may be necessary between public health measures. Unfortunately some public health folks seem to have an authoritarian mindset where they are certain that their particular views are apriori right and should be enacted on the country as a whole, regardless of whether experts in various states may disagree and make different choices.

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