President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday vowed to administer 100 million coronavirus vaccinations and reopen most schools during his first 100 days in office, while repeating his promise to mandate face coverings on airplanes, in federal buildings and other places under the government’s control.
The new pledges came as Biden introduced his picks to lead key health agencies and coordinate the federal response to a pandemic that’s infected almost 15 million people in the U.S.
“As a new president, I’m going to speak directly to the American people,” Biden said during the event in Wilmington, Del. “We need your help. Wear a mask for 100 days. It’s the easiest thing you can do to reduce Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
Biden was flanked by Vivek Murthy, his pick for surgeon general, and Jeffrey Zients, who will coordinate the coronavirus response for the incoming administration. Other members of the team, including health secretary-designate Xavier Becerra, appeared by remote feed.
Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots is in line with vaccine supplies the government has already secured. But since the two vaccines closest to winning FDA authorization each need to be given in two doses, it will will only cover 50 million people. In his speech, Biden echoed federal experts who’ve recommended priority be given to front-line health workers, the elderly and then other groups at higher risk of infection, including teachers.
Biden also wants to open the majority of the country’s schools within the first 100 days of his presidency and provide adequate funding for districts to implement safety measures such as better ventilation and hiring more staff to oversee smaller, more distanced classrooms of children.
Biden said he developed these three objectives in consultation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he asked to stay on as his chief medical adviser in addition to continuing his role at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Biden stressed the steps won’t come close to bringing the pandemic to an end and that vaccinating the rest of the population, supporting overwhelmed hospitals and assisting the tens of millions of people who have lost their health insurance will require a massive effort from both the executive branch and Congress.
“We did not get into this mess quickly, and it’s going to take time to fix,” he said. “But I am convinced that in 100 days we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better.”