Jan. 21 (UPI) — President Joe Biden signed several executive orders Thursday as he moves quickly to implement his administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and provide aid to struggling Americans.
The orders were all aimed at jump-starting an aggressive new strategy to fight the pandemic. In addition to the executive actions, Biden unveiled a new, nearly 200-page national strategy during an announcement at the White House.
“This plan is comprehensive, based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial. And it’s based on detail,” he said.
“Help is on the way.”
The Biden administration said under the plan, the federal government will use its resources and influence for a more effective national response — as well as to help state and local governments.
“For the past year, we couldn’t rely on the federal government,” Biden said. “We’ve seen the tragic cost of that failure.”
As of midday Thursday, at least 408,000 people have died in the United States and there have been 24.54 million cases of the virus.
Thursday’s orders will utilize the Defense Production Act to increase supplies necessary for conducting large-scale vaccine distribution and to increase testing, as well as producing more masks and other protective equipment.
The administration is also working to establish a pandemic testing board to help expand capacity, particularly in schools. Officials said the Biden administration will also “clarify” health insurance companies’ obligation to cover COVID-19 testing.
Biden’s executive actions also create a public dashboard with real-time data about cases, testing, vaccinations and hospital admissions, and impose a mask-wearing mandate on airplanes and other forms of interstate transportation.
Officials also said they will restore full funding for pandemic work performed by the National Guard, freezing the Trump administration’s effort to cut funding by 25% in most states.
The new orders seek to ramp up enforcement against employers that endanger employees by violating COVID-19 guidelines by directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to put out stronger rules around prevention measures.
Biden warned that despite his overhaul of the federal response to the COVID-19, the pandemic will get worse before it gets better, with the U.S. death toll expected to top 500,000 in the next month.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn this thing around,” he said. “This is one of the greatest operational challenges our nation has ever undertaken.
“We will get through this; we will defeat this pandemic.”
Biden said his goal is to distribute 100 million vaccines within the first 100 days of his administration.
The Trump administration has been criticized for its rollout of the two available COVID-19 vaccines. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration’s goal had been to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.
To date, about 16.5 million have been inoculated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.