On the same day that the paper stealth-edited its report on a credible allegation of sexual assault against him, The New York Times published an op-ed by Joe Biden laying out his “plan to safely reopen America.” While the Democratic presidential frontrunner takes a swipe at the Trump administration for having thus far failed to provide “an answer” for how we safely reopen the country, the former vice president’s plan remains quite vague and relies on the same points that Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force has repeatedly made about what needs to be in place to begin to return to some sense of “normalcy.”
“The plan has to start with responding effectively to the immediate medical crisis and ultimately lead to the widespread availability and administration of a vaccine. But we can’t stay home and just wait for the vaccine to arrive,” Biden writes in the op-ed published by the Times Sunday. “As others have noted, we need to build a bridge from here to there.”
Biden then lays out three general initial steps, with no specific metrics, in his “national strategy” for reopening the country (formatting adjusted):
First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need. President Trump needs to use his full powers under the Defense Production Act to fight the disease with every tool at our disposal. He needs to get the federal response organized and stop making excuses. For more Americans to go back to their jobs, the president needs to do better at his job.
Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy. A recent report from Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services made clear that we are far from achieving this goal. We should be running multiple times the number of diagnostic tests we’re performing right now. And we should be ready to scale up a second form of testing: rapid serology tests to tell who has already been infected with the coronavirus and has antibodies. This isn’t rocket science; it’s about investment and execution. We are now several months into this crisis, and still this administration has not squarely faced up to the “original sin” in its failed response — the failure to test.
Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.
All of those issues are currently being addressed by the Trump administration, including the president strategically using the Defense Production Act when necessary.
Biden goes on to say that if he were president, he would then gradually reopen segments of the country, “with sites like offices and stores reopening before arenas and theaters.” He would also “convene top experts from the private sector, industry by industry, to come up with new ideas on how to operate more safely.”
“Perhaps offices and factories will need to space out workers and pursue other solutions to lessen risk of spread of the virus on the job,” he suggests. “Restaurants may need new layouts, with diners farther apart.”
The Democrat also made sure to give a shout out to unions, saying he would “direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, working with organized labor and employee groups, to figure out what protections workers need on the job during this period.”
After getting protective gear to healthcare workers and emergency medical workers, Biden says, he would then start getting it to people in other key industries, like delivery workers and waiters. In the end, he says, the real solution will be the vaccine, which experts expect to take 12 to 18 months. (Read the full op-ed here.)