What the Biden-Harris COVID-19 transition plan may mean for Texas


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Projected U.S. President-elect Joe Biden made it clear yesterday that his top priority this week will be crafting a transition team for the country’s response to COVID-19. These changes will likely have implications for Texas which presently is the state with the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the past 7 days at 49,953 cases.

In his speech Saturday night, Biden announced that Monday he would “name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisers” who would convert the COVID-19 plan from the Biden-Harris campaign into a blueprint that can be rolled in when a new administration is sworn in.

“Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” Biden said Saturday night as he addressed the nation. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging our grandchildren, our children, our birthdays, weddings, graduations — all of the moments that matter most to us until we get it under control.”

Sunday, the Biden Campaign told NBC the names of three people who would co-chair this COVID-19 transition task-force: former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler (who was appointed by Texan and President George H. W. Bush in 1990).

The Biden-Harris administration’s transition website details key elements of their COVID-19 plan, including doubling the number of drive-through COVID-19 testing sites across the country, ramping up production of PPE, implementing mask mandates nationwide and investing $25 billion in vaccine manufacturing and distribution — which the campaign claims will guarantee every American will get a vaccine, cost-free.

Don Kettl, the Sid Richardson Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said that with federal pandemic response, he expects to see “a big shift in the balance of power.” Kettl believes that compared to President Donald Trump’s approach to the coronavirus which left many key decisions up to state and local leaders, President-elect Biden’s response already appears to have a more streamlined approach from the federal level.

“Not that the states are going to be any less important or have any less discretion, but that there’s going to be more coordination between the federal government and the states or among the states as a result,” Kettl clarified. “That’s going to mean inevitably a bit more federal power, but also a stronger role I suspect to try and develop a healthy partnership between the federal government and the state.”

Kettl expects this new involvement will present new political dynamics in Texas where the state and local governments have continued to experience friction over who gets to control COVID-19 response.

“What is the relationship going to be between the state and local governments?” Kettl wondered aloud. “All areas that have been incredibly tense so far, but which may really flare up if the virus in fact becomes more serious in the coming weeks.”

He noted that while transitions of power between administration are “one of the most difficult times any democracy has,” the Biden-Harris transition to the presidency during the pandemic is “perhaps the most difficult transition in the last 80 or 90 years, maybe since FDR took office.”

Dr. Diana Fite, president of the Texas Medical Association, spoke with KXAN during a break from her work as a Houston emergency physician, and shared her hopes that this new COVID-19 transition team is rooted in data and science.

“We certainly hope he assembles credible scientists and experts to help our country navigate this pandemic at this point,” Fite shared.

“We certainly hope that vaccines will be available soon, because vaccination is really the way we will get this under control,” she added.

She noted that while COVID-19 treatments have improved across the state over the past several months, any COVID-19 vaccination will take phases to roll out and will need to reach healthcare providers first before they are readily accessible to the public. She expects the taskforce will offer some guidance on how to prioritize who should be given vaccinations initially.

“There’s no question that we’re still very concerned about COVID and we need those vaccinations,” Fite added. “There’s still too much COVID around and still too many deaths from COVID, though certainly that death rate has improved greatly from the beginning.”

She added that different regions across Texas are experiencing the spread of COVID-19 differently and she hopes the COVID-19 transition taskforce accounts for those kinds of regional differences.

While Texas has many renowned medical institutions, Fite is not sure whether that will secure state medical experts a seat at the table during the COVID-19 transition discussions.

“We have just, the top notch medical expertise — I believe — in the nation here, so I hope some will be included, yes, but we have no idea,” she explained.

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