COVID-19: Why President Biden’s Response Strategy Falls Short
By Doug Badger
The Heritage Foundation, Jan. 27, 2021
President Biden has repeatedly said fighting COVID-19 is a top priority for his administration’s first weeks and months. Veteran White House senior official and Galen Senior Fellow Doug Badger says evidence shows the strategy should begin with increasing the pace of immunizations, protecting nursing home residents, implementing existing law on public health data collection and dissemination, and removing government barriers to over-the-counter, at-home, rapid tests.
Instead, the Biden administration appears to be devoting its early efforts to creating a vast new bureaucracy, Badger writes in a new paper for The Heritage Foundation, where he is a visiting fellow, “COVID-19: Why President Biden’s Response Strategy Falls Short.” A slew of recent executive orders and announcements creates a panoply of interagency task forces and overlapping White House authorities that could sow confusion and hamper federal efforts to curb the pandemic.
The natural tendency for a new administration is to focus on the things it can control, Badger writes. Reshuffling boxes on organizational charts, creating multi-agency working groups, and ordering up studies and reports conveys an aura of competent governance. Instead of offering plans with measurable results, metrics, and timelines, the administration is planning to make plans—or, rather, to establish task forces and working groups to make plans.
The risk is that the federal government will waste precious time and energy organizing itself instead of organizing a more effective response to the pandemic. President Biden won the presidential election at least partly because he promised a better plan to combat the pandemic. Having won office, he now says, “There’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”
His fatalism, though somewhat understandable, is misplaced, Badger says. The pandemic’s devastating consequences in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere is in part attributable to poorly conceived government policies. Public health authorities have failed to protect the most vulnerable, particularly nursing home residents, and have relied excessively on lockdowns and mask-wearing with disappointing results. The contagion continues to spread, even as government restrictions on social interactions and economic activities diminish financial security and economic and personal well-being.
As President, Biden can reshape these policies. He has the advantage of assuming office just as vaccine distribution is gearing up and the wave of new cases may have begun to recede (although that is by no means certain).
Immunizations of vulnerable populations, including nursing home staff and residents, frontline medical workers, and the elderly, are occurring at a daily pace that already exceeds the targets the Biden Administration initially set for its first 100 days.
The right response would be to increase the pace of immunizations, protect nursing home residents, and remove government barriers to at-home, rapid tests, Badger concludes.