How a Biden Win Could Change the Course of America's Coronavirus Pandemic

If Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November, the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in America could be changed completely. Experts say the current setup would be upended, with the likely dissolution of the coronavirus task force and the implementation of a uniform federal response.

The U.S. is currently leading the rest of the world in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths. Cases are starting to level out at around 50,000 per day following July's peak, but there is still considerable concern local transmission could increase significantly over the coming months. Johns Hopkins data shows 38 states still have a test positivity rate—the number of positive results versus tests taken—above 5 percent. This is the level to which the World Health Organization recommends a region drops below before relaxing restrictions.

As of yet there are no drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to treat coronavirus, although some have been given Emergency Use Authorization. A vaccine is also unlikely to be widely available until next year. This means the tools to suppress the virus will remain the same for an incoming Biden administration as they have been for President Donald Trump's.

Transition period

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Political analysts and health experts say a Biden administration would probably result in a stronger focus on science-based evidence, and would use this to guide policy—a departure from the current government's methods of handling the pandemic.

While it is thought these changes would have a positive impact in the long run in terms of testing, treatment and case reduction, it would come at a cost. The interim period between the announcement of the election results and the inauguration would result in short-term, but potentially significant disruption.

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"Any transition you have, even if it's to a better system, has some short term trauma," Jeff Schlegelmilch, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute, told Newsweek.

"People have already adapted to the way things are now. Then you add on the added layer of the polarization of our politics and the misinformation that's being spread. Voter fraud myths. I do worry for that interim period should there be an administration change between the election and the transition of government."

Wendy Schiller, Professor of Political Science at Brown University, also said the interim period between November and January would be disruptive. "If Trump loses…we can expect him to issue a series of executive orders to implement Republican Party policy goals that have not passed in his four years as president—but very few will likely apply to COVID-19 policy or practice," she told Newsweek in an email.

"Trump has spent much of the last six months denying the severity of the pandemic so it seems unlikely that he would focus on it after he loses." She said the biggest concern is whether Trump and his supporters will accept the results of an election, should Biden win.

Post-inauguration

If Biden wins and takes office in January, there would be a number of immediate changes that could be made to the way the coronavirus pandemic is being handled. Some changes could be made straight away through executive orders. Other aspects could take longer—potentially weeks or months—to implement.

One thing that would very likely be addressed swiftly is the existence of the coronavirus task force, set up by Trump and chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

Schiller said she would expect Biden would continue working with some of the task force members, but others would be replaced. These would probably include Robert R. Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and potentially Stephen Hahn, the head of the FDA.

"If Trump wins, he might very well disband the task force entirely," she added.

Schlegelmilch says Biden has his own advisory committee, so there would likely be a change in the people leading the coronavirus response. He said Anthony Fauci, who has worked with Democratic and Republican governments for decades, may well be kept, while Deborah Birx, who is a little closer with the current administration, may move on.

Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Newsweek: "You have to remember the task force was constituted mostly because the white house sidelined the existing infrastructure like the CDC. I think there would be some kind of a task force but you would hope with a different administration that they would return our public health experts to the forefront like the CDC which has been sidelined since the beginning. Then you have less emphasis on the task force because you are actually allowing the CDC to perform its function."

The CDC has been providing advice throughout the pandemic. For example, it recommends people wear masks in public and when with people from different households. However, there is no national policy on the use of masks to limit transmission.

joe biden
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Experts say Biden would likely change America's handling of the coronavirus pandemic to a more standard, science-based approach. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Adalja says that should Biden become president in January, the response to coronavirus may shift to a "more standard approach" to the way infectious disease emergencies are handled.

"If you look back at other infectious disease emergencies like the 2009 H1H1, Ebola, Zika. It is the CDC that is leading the charge," he said. "But in this outbreak, tellingly the CDC has been sidelined and politicized. You would hope any future administration that the CDC would return to the job it was designed to do."

Schiller also says Biden would move towards a centralized approach. Throughout the pandemic, there has been little guidance from the government. Instead, states have been given the opportunity to manage the virus autonomously. This has meant decisions relating to mitigation have varied widely from state to state, as well as decisions about when to reopen.

"A Biden administration would heavily prioritize a uniform federal response to testing and vaccination procedures through a combination of collaboration and mandates," she said. "Democratic elected officials generally have held a stronger belief in using the federal government to address major problems and they also tend to be stronger supporters of science as a guide for action than Republican elected officials.

"It is also possible that some governors, even Republican governors, would welcome a more coordinated fully supported federal response in terms of public health and financial relief to address the economic damage from the pandemic."

How a Biden Win Could Change the Course of America's Coronavirus Pandemic | Health