Delaying preparations to transfer power could delay everything from vaccine distribution to economic aid.
President-elect Joe Biden didn’t mince words when asked what will happen with the coronavirus pandemic due to President Donald Trump’s refusal to begin the routine transfer of power: “More people may die.”
Biden was speaking at a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, and hit on how important it is for his transition team to start working on a vaccine distribution system.
“It’s a huge, huge, huge undertaking to get it done,” Biden said, of getting the country vaccinated against the coronavirus. “If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind.”
But so far, Biden isn’t calling for legal action to force the president’s hand. And he said with or without early access to information, his administration would be able to get the job done.
“I am hopeful that the president will be, mildly more enlightened before we get to Jan. 20,” Biden said. “I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating to my ability to get started.”
Earlier in the day Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed Biden’s sentiments, saying the delay in the transfer of power is bad for combatting the coronavirus pandemic.
“The virus is not going to stop and call a timeout while things change,” Fauci said in an interview on the Today Show on Monday. “The virus is just going to keep going. The process is just going to keep going.”
He went on to note that in order to finalize vaccines and begin vaccinating the public by the end of December, the two administrations need to communicate with one another.
“We want a smooth process for that,” he said. “And the way you do that is by essentially having the two groups speak to each other and exchange information.”
The United States is facing a major surge of COVID-19 cases that are beginning to strain hospital capacity. There were 184,000 new cases on Saturday, a record high for the number of daily coronavirus infections in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
Earlier, the Biden team has said that the transition is moving along in spite of Trump. During a press conference last week, Biden seemed unconcerned at Trump’s refusal to concede and called it “an embarrassment.”
“It will not help the president’s legacy,” Biden said. “I think at the end of the day [the transition] will come to fruition on Jan. 20.”
Fauci compared the transition of power to “passing a baton in a race,” on CNN’s State of the Union over the weekend.
“It certainly would make things [go] more smoothly if we could do that,” he said. “Of course it would be better if we could start working with [the transition team now.]”
Officials have noted that a longer and more disruptive the delay in handing over power could increase the effects of the pandemic. And Americans have already waited for months for additional financial support from the federal government.
Extended unemployment benefits ran over the summer, and Congress has been unable to come to an agreement on another round of relief aid, leaving millions of Americans struggling to get by. There was some hope in the weeks before the election that lawmakers on Capitol Hill would reach an agreement, but Election Day came and went without help for citizens.
Delaying the transition of power could mean that Americans need to wait even longer to see progress on another round of relief aid. It could also delay the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, which are nearing completion.
“It is in the nation’s interest that the transition team get the threat assessments that the team knows about … understand the vaccine distribution plans, need to know where the stockpiles are, what the status is of masks and gloves,” said Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden transition team COVID-19 advisory board on ABC News. “There’s a lot of information that needs to be transmitted. It can’t wait until the last minute.”
Over the past week there has been news of two potential vaccines that preliminary data show to be over 90% effective at preventing the coronavirus.
Fauci explained that even after he is vaccinated he will not stop participating in public health measures.
“I could feel more relaxed in essentially not having the stringency of what we have right now, but I think abandoning it completely would not be a good idea,” he said.
UPDATE Nov. 16, 2020 4:07 p.m. EST: This story has been updated with comments from President-elect Joe Biden.