Biden spent his first 100 days in office encouraging Americans to mask up and stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. His task for the next 100 days will be to lay out the path back to normal.
When he entered office, Biden moved swiftly to overcome vaccine supply issues and more than tripled the country’s ability to administer them. But ending the coronavirus pandemic, the central challenge of his presidency, will require more than putting shots into arms — a task now growing more difficult as demand sags — but also a robust plan to help the nation emerge from a year of isolation, disruption and confusion.
If Biden launched the nation onto a war footing against a virus that infected nearly 200,000 Americans in January and killed about 3,000 of them per day, the next months will be tantamount to winning the peace. Already, deaths are down to fewer than 700 per day and average daily cases are below 60,000. U.S. officials insist there is a long way to go before the country can be fully at ease, but the progress is marked.
Going forward, success will mean finishing the nation’s herculean vaccination campaign — to date 43% of Americans have received at least one shot — overcoming lagging demand and communicating in clear terms what activities can be safely resumed by those who are vaccinated. Key milestones include Biden’s July Fourth pledge that Americans can safely gather with friends and family, and the start of the new school year, when the president hopes to have all schools open safely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to unveil new guidance on outdoor mask-wearing for unvaccinated people on Tuesday, ahead of a planned speech by Biden later in the day on the state of the pandemic response. Officials said a focus in the coming weeks will on easing guidance for vaccinated people, both in recognition of their lower risk and to provide an incentive to get shots.
“We’re excited about the progress we’ve made, and the opportunity ahead of us, and because of the vaccination program we built we’re further along than almost anyone predicted,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients in a Monday interview. “It means we’re closer to returning to normal.”
On Inauguration Day, the notion of COVID-19 vaccine supply eclipsing demand seemed fanciful, with only priority groups eligible for shots and an underground economy emerging for “extra doses” for everyone else. Now, shots are so plentiful in many places that the Biden administration is encouraging states and pharmacy partners to set up walk-in sites for doses without appointments.
This “new phase,” as Biden’s team calls it, has been the subject of intense preparation since even before the president’s inauguration. Wary of wasting a moment, Zients and other officials drafted a mountain of emails to launch the federal bureaucracy into action to be sent in the first minutes after their government email accounts were activated. Even as more Americans get vaccinated, Zients said, the White House wasn’t letting up its urgency just yet.