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Biden signs 'wartime' COVID-19 executive orders, imposing national mask mandate on public transportation


'Our national strategy is comprehensive, it's based on science, not politics.'

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced 10 new executive orders as part of his administration's "wartime" strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic, including an interstate mask mandate and an invocation of the Defense Production Act to resupply PPE, coronavirus tests, and vaccines.

The actions demonstrate Biden's willingness to use the power of the federal government to engage in a top-down management of the coronavirus pandemic, departing from the Trump administration's willingness to let the states manage the virus according to their local needs with support from the federal government.

"Our national strategy is comprehensive, it's based on science, not politics. It's based on truth, not denial, and it's detailed," Biden said, speaking from the White House.

The president's announcement was accompanied by the release of a 200-page document detailing Biden's plan published to the White House website.

Acknowledging that the national coronavirus death toll will likely reach 500,000 people next month, Biden explained that the goals of his executive orders are to increase testing for the virus, accelerate the deployment of vaccines, and restore trust with the American people. Biden declared his desire to vaccinate more people and safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel.

"Our national plan launches a full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages by ramping up production and protective equipment, syringes, needles, you name it," Biden said. "And when I say wartime, people kind of look at me like 'wartime?' Well, as I said last night, 400,000 Americans have died. That's more than have died in all of World War II. 400,000. This is a wartime undertaking."

After announcing his plan, Biden signed 10 executive orders, memorandums, and directives to implement it. According to CNBC, the orders include:

  • Mandating masks on public transportation, including trains, buses, and aircraft.
  • Requiring international travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test before entering the U.S. and mandating quarantine upon arrival.
  • Compelling companies under the Defense Production Act to produce PPE, coronavirus tests, and administer vaccines.
  • Providing more funding for state and local governments to create vaccination sites and launch a national public relations campaign to support vaccination efforts.
  • Creating a COVID-19 Response Office to coordinate the pandemic response across multiple federal agencies and collect data to share across the government.
  • Continuing research into new treatments for COVID-19.
  • Establishing a new pandemic testing board to research and develop new more rapid tests and ready them for use.
  • Ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to collect data on school reopenings and evaluate the risks of sending children back to school.
  • Establishing a "COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force" to ensure that minority communities are not disproportionally under-serviced by the government .
To fund these executive orders, Biden is calling on Congress to pass a new $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which will include $350 billion in state and local government aid, $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges and universities, $50 billion for COVID testing, and $20 billion for a national vaccine program.
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