The White House Is Mulling a New Pandemic Strategy
The White House, intensifying its efforts to develop a new coronavirus strategy, is evaluating a blueprint by outside experts whose recommendations include stronger air filtration systems in public buildings, billions of dollars in research and a major upgrade to the nation’s public health system.
The team of more than two dozen experts was led by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist who advised President Biden’s transition team. The group includes former federal officials who have served presidents of both parties. They have spent much of this week meeting behind closed doors with government scientists and top health officials.
The New York Times obtained a draft copy of their 136-page plan from a person involved in the sessions, who said the White House has asked the Emanuel team to provide cost estimates for some of its recommendations.
Entitled “Getting to and Sustaining the Next Normal: A Roadmap for Living With Covid,” the plan strikes the same “Things are getting better but we’re not out of the woods yet” tone that the president himself has adopted in recent weeks. It provides a guide for bringing the nation out of crisis mode at a time when, the authors write, the United States is still “far from a normal situation.”
“The mood of the American public, the demands of the economy and society, and the challenges posed by a virus that constantly surprises the experts pose new and unique challenges,” the authors wrote. “Trying to eliminate Covid is not realistic. Instead, the nation must plan to mitigate its effects, prepare for variants, and build towards a next normal.”
White House officials emphasized that Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response team has been engaged for weeks in discussions with governors, business leaders and health experts on how to revise its strategy for the next phase of the pandemic.
Dr. Emanuel’s team settled on 10 broad recommendations. Its report assumes that there will be fewer deaths from Covid-19 in 2022 than in 2021 and calls for the federal government to develop key indicators that community health officials can use to decide when to impose or ease emergency measures like masking and social distancing.
“Economists determine the health of the economy using multiple indicators, primarily unemployment, inflation, and GDP growth,” the authors write. “Similarly, a dashboard for respiratory viral illnesses will be composed of several critical metrics.”
The authors also call on the government to start a new research initiative, modeled on the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, to develop new and more effective therapeutics and vaccines that might work against all coronavirus variants.
They want the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new air quality standards to prevent viral transmission indoors, a stronger scientific response to “long Covid,” new regulations to make it easier for health care providers to conduct virtual visits, and initiatives to improve safety in schools and workplaces.
“From now on, the nation must do far more to avoid closing schools,” the authors wrote.