Biden COVID-19 Czar Says Post-Trump Supply Shortage 'So Much Worse' Than Expected

The head of President Joe Biden's coronavirus team says that after months of the Trump administration handling the nation's response to the pandemic, what they have inherited is "so much worse" than expected.

"What we're inheriting from the Trump administration—what we're getting—is so much worse than we could have imagined," Jeff Zients, Biden's COVID-19 czar, told Newsweek and other reporters this week.

Biden is expected to formally announce his plans to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and sign related executive orders on Thursday afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday evening that pandemic response will be Biden's top priority in office.

"This is the issue he wakes up every day focused on…the issue he goes to bed every night focused on—getting the pandemic under control," she said.

Biden's camp already had released many of the details about his plans for COVID-19. Just hours after taking office on Wednesday, Biden signed a 100-day mask mandate for federal properties as an effort to slow the spread of the disease that has surged in recent months.

Newsweek's attempts to reach former members of the Trump administration were not successful on Wednesday.

Biden is expected to sign 10 additional executive orders and other actions on Thursday—partially driven by the need for supplies necessary to increase vaccines, tests and other coronavirus containment efforts. Biden's administration has set a goal of administering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots during his first 100 days in office.

"It's an ambitious, but achievable goal," Zients said.

Biden previously addressed the nation's dramatic vaccine shortage, vowing to cut red tape to increase supply. According to a more detailed preview of his plans for Thursday that was provided to Newsweek, he'll issue an executive order directing federal agencies to do whatever is needed to facilitate that effort, including using the Defense Production Act, a 1950s-era law that allows the government to mobilize and prioritize contracts for the production of items critical to national security.

"The key here is across the whole supply chain of vaccines," Zients said, noting that the nation needs more raw materials used in the production of vaccines and items needed to administer them.

The DPA also could be invoked to increase the supply of personal protective equipment needed for health care and other frontline workers.

Biden has repeatedly said he wants to prioritize reopening schools that have been shuttered to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

One executive order anticipated on Thursday would allow the federal government to fully reimburse costs of safely reopening schools through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, and another would direct the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to work together to develop a comprehensive reopening plan.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office as he signs a series of orders at the White House in Washington, DC, after being sworn in at the US Capitol on January 20, 2021. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty