President Biden kicks off health agenda with COVID actions, WHO outreach


President Joe Biden kicked off his new administration Jan. 20 with an immediate focus on attempts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including closer coordination with other nations.

Mr. Biden signed 17 executive orders, memoranda, and directives addressing not only the pandemic but also economic concerns, climate change, and racial inequity.

At the top of the list of actions was what his transition team called a “100 Days Masking Challenge.” Mr. Biden issued an executive order requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors.

The president also halted the Trump administration’s process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization. Instead, Mr. Biden named Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as the head of a delegation to participate in the WHO executive board meeting that is being held this week.

Mr. Biden also signed an executive order creating the position of COVID-19 response coordinator, which will report directly to the president and be responsible for coordinating all elements of the COVID-19 response across government, including the production and distribution of vaccines and medical supplies.

The newly inaugurated president also intends to restore the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which will aid in the response to the pandemic, his transition team said.

The American Medical Association was among the first to commend the first-day actions.

“Defeating COVID-19 requires bold, coordinated federal leadership and strong adherence to the public health steps we know stop the spread of this virus – wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands,” said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD in a news release. “We are pleased by the Biden administration’s steps today, including universal mask wearing within federal jurisdictions, providing federal leadership for COVID-19 response, and reengaging with the World Health Organization. Taking these actions on day 1 of the administration sends the right message – that our nation is laser focused on stopping the ravages of COVID-19.”

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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