President Joe Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office on Thursday, with his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, praising his new boss’ willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the Trump administration.
Biden promises ‘wartime’ effort to fight COVID
Biden said he was stepping up the federal response to the virus including by taking steps to expand testing and vaccinations and increase mask-wearing.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travelers, and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
The pandemic has killed 405,000 people and infected more than 24 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world.
Former President Donald Trump, who left office on Wednesday, often sought to play down the severity of the country’s worst public health crisis in a century and left much of the planning to individual states, resulting in a patchwork of policies across the country.
Fauci, who served under Trump but has been promoted to Biden’s chief medical adviser, was at Biden’s side during the event and then spoke to reporters in the White House briefing room for the first time in weeks after Trump largely banished him from the podium.
Speaking with reporters, Fauci said: “One of the things that we’re going to do is to be completely transparent, open and honest. If things go wrong, not point fingers, but to correct them. And to make everything we do be based on science and evidence.
“That was literally a conversation I had 15 minutes ago with the president and he has said that multiple times.”
During the election race in October, Trump reportedly told campaign staff: “Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths.”
Trump said this at a rally in early November, as crowds chanted “Fire Fauci! Fire Fauci!”, the president suggested he might do just that.
At Thursday’s briefing, Fauci was asked how it feels to no longer have Trump looming over him. “Obviously, I don’t want to be going back over history but it’s very clear that there were things that were said – be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine [pushed as a treatment by Trump] and things like that – that really was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact.
“I can tell you, I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president, so it was really something that you didn’t feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn’t be any repercussions about it. The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is and know that’s it, let the science speak, it is something of a liberating feeling.”