Grading Biden's first week: Public health experts give new president an 'A' for COVID-19 response

Experts who spoke to Salon gave Biden high marks in his response to COVID-19

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 27, 2021 4:51PM (EST)

Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Salon reached out to public health experts regarding their assessments of President Joe Biden's early performance fighting the COVID-19 pandemic... and graded him with an A.

"I would give him a solid A," Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, told Salon by email. "He is doing great."

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, expressed a similar view, writing to Salon that "he gets an A+ from me so far for his first week of office."

Both doctors told Salon that they valued Biden's determination to use medical science as the basis for shaping public policy, something that his predecessor Donald Trump repeatedly refused to do. They were not alone in expressing this sentiment.

"The single most important policy that affects all the multiple components of Biden's coordinated national pandemic strategy is a commitment to objective, data-driven scientific evidence, public health recommendations and full transparency with the American people," Dr. Russell Medford, Chairman of the Center for Global Health Innovation and Global Health Crisis Coordination Center, wrote to Salon. "This is a clear break from the past and the positive impact this is having on the morale and by extension the operational effectiveness of the scientific, medical and public health communities in our fight against COVID-19 should not be underestimated."

In terms of specific policies, Benjamin praised Biden for "creating a unified national approach by writing and releasing a comprehensive plan," setting a positive example "especially his mask guidance," making sure that the process for developing public policy remains transparent and "working to ensure a reliable and sustainable vaccine supply."

Gandhi argued that Biden's most important policies included "signing the executive order to invoke the Defense Production Act, which will enable more nimble production of PPE, vaccines and testing agents" and "promising today to purchase an additional 200 million doses of vaccine for the U.S. population – 100 million from Moderna and 100 million from Pfizer — which will allow more supply to quickly get to states to administer since mass vaccination roll-out is the most effective way we have to get to the end of the pandemic."

In terms of what Biden needs to do next, Gandhi stressed the importance of developing herd immunity through mass vaccinations.

"At this point, the more conventional ways of controlling COVID-19 transmission (masks, distancing, ventilation, testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine) are important but only mass vaccination will get us to the end of this pandemic through herd immunity," Gandhi wrote. "So, I would advise a daily press conference from either President Biden or a member of his team on progress on procuring vaccines and rolling out to states. This is the issue of the day!"

Going forward, Medford argued that Biden needs to make sure he sticks to his plan, identifying as the three most crucial points that he "crush, as soon as possible, COVID-19 nationally through mass vaccination, mask wearing and social distancing," that he "ensure that the global COVID-19 response is similarly effective" and that he "enhance the nation's rapid testing and genetic surveillance capabilities to identify and develop effective countermeasures to new SARS-CoV-2 variants as they arise."

Benjamin expressed a similar view, telling Salon that Biden must "maintain the momentum and implement his plan," including making sure to "strengthen the 'last mile' vaccine delivery system to get shots in arms" and "plan to rebuild the nation's public health system and implement it."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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