American Opinion: Lame-duck White House must help control COVID surge
Summary: The next few months will be tough enough, as the outbreak intensifies and Americans wait for a vaccine. The Trump administration, in its closing weeks, should at least try to avoid making matters worse.
A week before Thanksgiving, COVID-19 is once again surging out of control. Infections in the U.S. are proliferating so quickly — 1 million were recorded in the past week — that as many as 35,000 Americans could die before the month is out.
It's a public health crisis of stunning proportions, yet the White House is largely ignoring it. President Donald Trump is focused on pointless legal challenges to the election results, and whether to run again in 2024. It's little consolation that even if he were more engaged, he'd probably do more harm than good.
Encouragingly, President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to take more aggressive action. Although his team is ruling out a widespread lockdown or a national mask mandate, it is working on plans to use the Defense Production Act to churn out needed supplies of protective equipment for health care workers, and to boost and better coordinate help for states, cities, schools and businesses. Biden's team is also meeting with drug companies that are helping to fight the disease, and has indicated a desire to keep Trump's vaccine rollout moving ahead without delay.
Unfortunately, the current administration is doing nothing to smooth the transition or to combat the present COVID surge. Trump's refusal to concede the election means that the legions of people in various executive branch departments who have been working on the pandemic response have not yet told the Biden team what systems exist for getting needed supplies out to states and hospitals or shared details of the vaccine effort.
The administration's data blackout is making things worse. It is still refusing to publicly release critical county-level information on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths; how they break down by race and ethnicity; and how they correlate with school closures, social distancing mandates, testing and other government actions. This data is crucial to understanding how the pandemic is proceeding and which policy tools work best to contain it. Once in charge, Biden's team should make it public.
Even if Trump refuses to cooperate, however, his conscientious advisers can still help ensure an orderly transition. Vice President Mike Pence, leader of the coronavirus task force, should redouble efforts to boost supplies of protective gear and ensure the military is ready to provide additional hospital capacity. Deborah Birx and other health officials should be working with Biden's experts to deliver a consistent public message — encouraging mask-wearing, small holiday gatherings and cooperation with testing and tracing efforts — that can continue into the next administration. Both teams should be encouraging local leaders to strengthen their COVID-control measures for schools and businesses (rather than fomenting resistance to those measures, as Trump's favorite coronavirus adviser is still doing).
In the two months ahead, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration should conduct daily briefings to keep the public abreast of the pandemic, encourage best public health practices and demonstrate that the federal government is doing its utmost to manage the crisis through a change of leadership. Republicans in Congress, for their part, should be working with Democrats to pass a new stimulus bill — or at the very least to allocate the $6 billion that the CDC has said states will need to manage the distribution of vaccines, which could be available even before Inauguration Day.
The next few months will be tough enough, as the outbreak intensifies and Americans wait for a vaccine. The Trump administration, in its closing weeks, should at least try to avoid making matters worse.
This editorial is the opinion of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board.
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