WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday pledged that the United States “can overcome” the Covid-19 pandemic, even as he warned that it is entering “what may be the toughest and deadliest period” of the crisis.
The remarks, made during key moments in his inauguration address on the west front of the Capitol, represented a forceful pledge that the country can bring the pandemic to an end. They also marked a stark departure from the approach taken by former President Trump, who spent weeks avoiding the subject of Covid-19 in his public comments, and then referred to the pandemic in past tense Wednesday before he departed Washington, D.C.
Biden’s new administration, which has pledged that scientists and public health leaders will shape pandemic-response policy, is set to spend the day issuing a flurry of executive orders aimed at shifting the U.S. response to Covid-19. Chief among them: a long-expected move to remain part of the World Health Organization.
Biden’s reengagement with the WHO comes roughly eight months after President Trump pledged to withdraw funding from the global health organization. The process to withdraw would have taken a full year, however, meaning the new administration can opt to remain part of the organization, as Biden has long pledged.
The Biden-Harris administration will participate in a WHO Executive Board meeting this week, according to a press release issued just prior to the inauguration. Anthony Fauci, the federal researcher who will serve as chief medical adviser to the new administration’s Covid-19 response, will lead the delegation and address the group of WHO executives on Thursday.
The president will also issue a nationwide mask mandate, though it is severely limited in scope — as president, Biden’s authority to enforce face-covering guidelines extends mainly to federal buildings and interstate travel. Biden has said he’ll call on governors and mayors throughout the 50 states and U.S. territories to enact those guidelines at the local level.
In a nod to his limited authority, the Biden administration also said the president would “launch a 100 Days Masking Challenge” — essentially, urging Americans to voluntarily don face coverings when in public. The move accompanies arguably the most aggressive pledge Biden has made regarding his government’s Covid-19 response: administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.
Biden also announced an executive order creating the role of a federal Covid-19 coordinator, a position that will be filled by former Obama administration economist Jeffrey Zients.
And in an interview on Tuesday, Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to serve as secretary of state, said the U.S. would soon rejoin COVAX, the global, WHO-led partnership that aims to distribute coronavirus vaccine doses to low-income countries unable to secure their own supply. The U.S. and Russia had been among the only major countries to refuse to join the initiative.