Biden looks to overhaul pandemic response

BENEATH THE USUAL pomp and circumstance of inauguration day was one underlying feeling — urgency. Urgency to address deep divisions involving race and inequity, urgency to roll back some of former President Donald Trump’s hundreds of immigration changes. But above all else was the urgency to address a problem that was omnipresent as hundreds of socially distant attendees watched Joe Biden slip off his mask to take the presidential oath. 

The US passed the devastating milestone of 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 on the eve of the inauguration. The US accounts for nearly 1 of every 5 virus deaths reported worldwide, and over 120,000 people are currently hospitalized here with the virus. The total number of deaths in Massachusetts rose to 13,829 on Wednesday.

Health experts contend that the Trump administration’s mishandling of the pandemic response led to thousands of avoidable deaths. Biden is setting the stage for a massive overhaul of the federal response to the pandemic.

Part of what Biden will deal with, even before his $1.9 trillion stimulus and recovery plan is debated, is getting the US respected on the world stage for its handling of the pandemic and willingness to collaborate with other countries. 

Earlier this month, Biden promised 100 million vaccinations will go into the arms of Americans in his first 100 days, an ambitious goal. On day one, Biden tapped Dr. Anthony Fauci to lead a delegation at the World Health Organization’s annual meetings this week, reversing Trump’s plan to withdraw from the global health agency. Trump’s announcement to leave the WHO last April  which would not have technically been final until this July drew strong criticism from both sides of the aisle. The former president spun a fictional tale about how the organization was “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” while he was simultaneously publicly minimizing the disease in the US.

 Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who opposed a nationwide mask mandate,  resigned at Biden’s request on Wednesday. Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served in that role during the Obama administration, will be appointed by Biden to return to the post.

Before his inauguration, Biden challenged the public to wear masks for 100 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. After his swearing-in, Biden issued an executive order requiring masks and social distancing on federal lands, in government buildings, and by federal employees and contractors. He signed an order creating the position of coordinator of the COVID-19 response and mandating a restructuring of the federal government’s approach to the pandemic. He’s bringing in Jeff Zients, a former management consultant, for the job. According to the Financial Times, Zients, who is not a scientist, was dubbed “Mr. Fix It” when he worked in the Obama administration for his skill turning around failing government projects.

 Zients told reporters on Wednesday that Biden plans more executive orders and directives, including a requirement for travelers to wear masks on planes, buses, and in airports, and offering more guidance on school reopenings.

Biden is also bringing back an Obama-era position called the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was organized with additional staff within the National Security Council after the 2014 Ebola epidemic.

Biden released his COVID-19 relief plan before he took office, an initiative that would invest $20 billion in a national vaccine program and $50 billion more for COVID testing. The infusion of cash can’t come soon enough. Last week, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the federal government’s reserve for second shots no longer existed, meaning health officials will have to work with a limited supply of existing vaccines. The news sent some governors (although not Gov. Charlie Baker) into an uproar over communications issues on vaccine rollout.

SARAH BETANCOURT

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is headed to Washington as deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. The new acting secretary will be Jamey Tesler, who is currently heads the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Newly inaugurated President Biden launches his undoing of his predecessor’s immigration policies, with a series of orders and legislation creating a pathway to citizenship.

Shira Schoenberg explores what it means that the number of domestic-violence homicides has dropped significantly during the pandemic.

Faced with a shortage of medical professionals at field hospitals, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration goes silent on whether foreign-trained medical doctors should be allowed to practice here.

Marijuana retailers sue over new home delivery rules.

Opinion: Charlie Cary makes the case that wood already cut down due to storms or infestations should be used to produce heat, not electricity. … John Messinger and Leo Beletsky say forced addiction treatment could be a death sentence during the pandemic.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The Globe offers snapshots of five freshmen state reps to watch

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston City Council president Kim Janey would have broad powers as acting mayor, a post she will assume when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh resigns to become US labor secretary, but her authority in the role is not unlimited. (Boston Herald)

Walsh was in Washington for yesterday’s inauguration, but there is no word yet on when Senate confirmation hearings might begin on his cabinet nomination. (Boston Herald)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Researchers say the second surge of COVID-19 has peaked. (NPR) Still, medical experts are worried about the new more contagious strain of the coronavirus, now present in Massachusetts. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Experts still don’t know if the COVID-19 vaccines prevent people who are immunized from spreading the disease to others. (MassLive)

The rollout of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine has run into all sorts of glitches. (Boston Globe

A state vaccination site is set to open on Cape Cod, although the details are murky. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Joe Biden takes office as the country’s 46th president, vowing to unite a divided country while calling out lies and restoring truth as a pillar of democratic governance. (Washington Post

Will the country give unity a try, or is that naive optimism, asks Joan Vennochi. (Boston Globe)

President Biden signs the paperwork to have the US return to the Paris Climate Accord. (NPR)

Rep. Seth Moulton describes what it was like attending President Biden’s “extraordinary” inauguration, COVID precautions and all. (Salem News) Rep. Jim McGovern, seated toward the front, calls the experience awe-inspiring. (Telegram & Gazette) Other elected officials in Massachusetts react to the inauguration with optimism and praise for Biden. (Eagle-Tribune) NPR posts a photo essay of the day, which was a bit different from other inauguration celebrations because of coronavirus. 

Amanda Gorman becomes the youngest inaugural poet ever, at age 22, and delivers a powerful ode to the resilience of democracy with “The Hill We Climb.” (New York Times

Four people with New England ties get last-minute pardons by President Trump, including a man accused of contributing illegally to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

BioMed Realty plans to develop 1.3 million square feet of lab and office space near Assembly Row in Somerville. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The state education department says 302 schools and districts – including 213 out of 400 public school districts – have expressed interest in using pooled testing to help return kids to school in person. (MassLive) CommonWealth wrote earlier this month about the small town of Harvard’s effort to launch pooled testing on its own before the state stepped forward. 

The University of Massachusetts is launching a program at several of its campuses to get students to volunteer to help COVID-19 vaccination efforts. (Boston Business Journal)

The Fall River School Committee’s decision to keep Superintendent Matthew Malone despite a reportedly damning investigation that found he harassed staff members has left the city vulnerable to expensive lawsuits, say some members of the City Council.  (Herald News)

The Milton school committee unanimously appointed James Jette, who was serving in the position temporarily, as permanent school superintendent Wednesday night. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Worcester planning board members are reviving a discussion about whether to let residents own chickens, amid growing pandemic-related interest in people growing their own food. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A white Hudson man is facing multiple charges, including civil rights violations, after allegedly hurling racial epithets at a black Boston man in a road rage incident in Belmont and then fatally running him over. (Boston Herald)  

The first jury trial held in Salem since last March featured six jurors, two courtrooms, and lots of Plexiglass barriers. (Salem News)

Police break up a party with 100 people at a nightclub in Lawrence. The police are still seeking the person responsible for hosting the party, and attendees could be fined. (Eagle-Tribune)

PASSINGS

Alex Goldfarb, a nationally known nephrologist who worked at Anna Jacques Hospital, had a private practice in Brookline, and helped treat COVID patients last year in New York, dies while mountain climbing in Pakistan. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Biden looks to overhaul pandemic response