(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden unveiled a national strategy to combat the coronavirus, saying the pandemic is likely to claim another 100,000 lives over roughly the next month.
“We’ll move Heaven and Earth to get more people vaccinated for free,” Biden said Thursday at the White House.
But he warned: “The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated.”
Biden announced a series of executive actions aimed at overhauling the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has already claimed more than 400,000 lives in the U.S. He repeated his warning that the crisis will worsen before it improves, and that the U.S. will experience a “dark winter.”
But he encouraged Americans to begin more frequently wearing a mask, saying the simple precaution could save 50,000 lives through April.
“The fact is, it’s the single best thing we can do — more important than the vaccines,” he said.
The distribution of coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. has been plagued by delays, and Biden officials have criticized the Trump administration for the lags, saying there was no federal plan in place to ensure shots were administered.
“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 task force coordinator, said Wednesday.
The executive actions include stabilizing the supply chain for critical medical supplies and boosting the government’s ability to provide rapid and equitable vaccine distribution. But the Biden administration acknowledges it needs Congress to authorize additional spending in order to make a breakthrough.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” Biden said.
The director of his National Economic Council, Brian Deese, said earlier that “it’s critical that Congress act quickly on the president’s proposals and provide relief for families in need.” Republicans have already expressed misgivings about the pricetag for Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill.
Another 4,415 people died in the U.S. from the coronavirus on Wednesday, the second-highest daily total yet. Roughly 186,000 new cases were recorded the same day. The rolling average number of new infections has declined since peaking on Jan. 10, but a new, more contagious strain of the virus threatens to fuel another wave of the illness.
The U.S. has administered at least 17.2 million doses of vaccine so far, or about 5 doses per 100 people, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. That trails countries like the U.K and Israel, but outpaces others including Germany, Italy and Canada.