Federal response one year after the start of the pandemicCaitlin Rivers, PhD, MPH
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS Newspath) – One year after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, more than half a million people in the U.S. have lost their lives to the virus. The race to recovery has now turned to vaccinations.
So far, more than 90 million vaccines have been administered in the United States, with 18 percent of the total U.S. population receiving at least one dose. President Biden says, “We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May.”
From vaccines, to testing, to reopening plans, President Biden is pushing a national response strategy in contrast to the Trump administration’s state-driven approach. “A lot of control happens at the state and local level. And that’s appropriate because it allows jurisdictions to tailor what’s happening, the policies to their communities. The challenge is that when every single state is having to make the same set of decisions, it makes sense to take that up a level and provide federal guidance and leadership,” says Dr. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Rivers helped work on reopening guidance last spring and says a key lesson learned is the critical importance of clear public health messaging. “We just never got that really crisp, continuous messaging that could help people to navigate this really difficult year,” she says.
While President Trump received criticism for mixed messaging, as well as downplaying the threat of the virus, his administration earned praise for helping fast track the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
The FDA has given Emergency Use Authorization to vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While the rollout has been rocky, FEMA has now helped launch mass vaccination sites, with an emphasis on reaching vulnerable populations and underserved communities. FEMA pilot community vaccination sites are up and running in several major cities including New York, Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles. FEMA continues to add pilot sites, locations in Chicago and Greensboro, NC open Tuesday (3/9).
The federal government has also provided resources and support to hundreds of other vaccination sites nationwide. The Biden administration announced plans Monday to invest $250 million in an effort to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccination among underserved populations.
The public health crisis also triggered an economic crisis, decimating businesses and leaving millions out of work, demanding its own federal response.
Last March, President Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. The largest of five emergency bills Congress passed in 2020 included stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and the Paycheck Protection Program to help struggling businesses. Congress is now poised to send President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan to his desk.
Americans are still anxious about a key question: What does the new normal look like? “I think this summer we will have more flexibility to go on road trips, summer camps, barbecues, but it will look a little bit different,” Dr. Rivers says. “I think masks will continue to be a staple in households. I think that we will all be a little bit more mindful to keep our distance from others, but we will be able to reincorporate a lot of things that are important to us,” she adds.
Health experts also stress the importance of laying the groundwork now for the best response to future crises.