Biden’s Coronavirus Plan Will Not Prevent Death and Devastation

The United States finally has a president who seems to understand the threats posed by Covid-19. The new government also has the people’s mandate and legislative power to address the crisis. As Americans, we are relieved and cautiously optimistic for the first time in many months.

As epidemiologists, however, we fear that President Joe Biden’s current pandemic strategy will not be enough to avert further disasters. To prevent unnecessary deaths and give the vaccine a chance of success, Biden must encourage states to shut down four to six weeks by providing generous economic support to people and businesses.

The Biden team inherited an incredibly difficult situation. The coronavirus is circulating at an uncontrolled level in almost every US community. More transmissible variants such as strain B.1.1.7 first identified in the UK are here and could become the dominant strains sometime in March. To date, around 440,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States, with the highest fatalities being borne by people of color. We could reach half a million deaths by mid-February.

Even with Biden’s vaccination schedule, only a small fraction of Americans – perhaps one in eight – would receive both doses of vaccine by May. It is risky to allow high levels of virus transmission before large-scale vaccinations are given. First, hundreds of thousands more people could die if the virus spreads unabated. Second, incremental vaccination applies selective pressure on the virus, increasing the likelihood that new mutations could weaken the vaccines’ effectiveness. Suppressing transmission is the best way to reduce the chance of the coronavirus mutating during the vaccine launch, and the best way to suppress transmission is to implement policies that allow large numbers of people to pass personal Avoid contact with other people.

The White House 200-page strategic plan because the pandemic response does not go far enough. It contains mask mandates, test programs and specific restrictions. But an emphasis on masking, for example, will bring limited returns as a large fraction of Americans – 73 percent according to a recent poll– Already wear masks when you leave the house. The new OSH policy is important, but needs contextualization: the OSH has limited enforcement powers and fewer than 900 inspectors covering the entire country.

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