Biden has a plan to fight COVID-19. Here's what we know

Even though he won't be sworn in until Jan. 20, the president-elect's strategy represents a new approach to the pandemic.

Dale Smith Former Associate Writer
Dale Smith is a former Associate Writer on the How-To team at CNET.
Dale Smith
3 min read

Joseph Biden named a presidential transition COVID-19 task force consisting of public health experts from across the country.

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On the same day the US surpassed 10 million known cases of COVID-19 and the number of deaths hovered at around a 1,000 seven-day average, Democratic president-elect Joseph Biden Monday announced the formation of a COVID-19 task force composed of public health experts who Biden says will advise him on issues related to the pandemic.

"We'll follow the science. We'll follow the science -- let me say that again," Biden said at a Nov. 9 press conference, suggesting a different path than what the current administration has taken. "And we'll adjust to new data when it comes in."

Although Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration as president is over two months away, his approach to the coronavirus pandemic is already beginning to take shape in other ways. This includes promoting universal masking, increased testing and vaccine development.


Biden said until there's a coronavirus vaccine, masks are the strongest defense Americans have against COVID-19.

Angela Lang/CNET

As a second wave of lockdowns comes to Europe and the US economy still reels, here's what Biden says he will do once he moves into the White House.

Encourage universal mask wearing nationwide

During his presidential transition announcement Nov. 9, Biden pleaded with Americans to wear a mask. "The goal of mask-wearing is not to make you less comfortable, or take something away from you. It's to give something back to all of us, a normal life," Biden said. "The goal is to get back to normal as fast as possible. Masks are critical in doing that. It won't be forever, but that's how we'll get our nation back."

Although the federal government may be limited in terms of being able to issue a nationwide mask mandate, Biden has indicated he would require masks where he could -- for example, in federal buildings and interstate transportation -- and work with local government leaders to establish other mandates. 


Once president, Biden could require masks be worn in all federal buildings and by anyone conducting interstate commerce.

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"First, I'll go to every governor and urge them to mandate mask wearing in their states, and, if they refuse, I'll go to the mayors and county executives and get local mask requirements in place nationwide," Biden said during a campaign speech in October.

Read more: Where to buy popular face mask styles of 2020

Expand convenient, free coronavirus testing

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly objected that increased testing usually leads to more coronavirus infections being reported, Biden's plan calls for vastly expanded testing. His plan would expand the availability of free coronavirus tests to anyone who needed one by increasing the number of mobile and drive-thru testing sites in every state.

Because so many people who contract COVID-19 often have either mild symptoms or none at all, widespread testing is considered crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19.  A September study published in the journal Nature suggested that current infection rates in the US are actually an underestimation, because testing has only captured individuals with moderate to severe symptoms. That means people with more mild cases may have been inadvertently spreading the disease when they should have self-quarantined, but they didn't know since they weren't tested.


At at-home coronavirus test kit lets you mail in a sample for analysis.

Amanda Capritto/CNET

Support safe vaccine development, sensible distribution plan

Not long after Biden announced his transition plans, one of the frontrunners in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine -- Pfizer -- announced its vaccine candidate has been demonstrated to be 90% effective in clinical trials. Biden congratulated the developers in a statement Monday and then quickly shifted his messaging away from vaccines and back to universal masking.

Noting that it will still be many months before there is widespread vaccination in the US, Biden cautioned, "[F]or the foreseeable future, a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine." 

Beyond that, Biden's approach to the search for a coronavirus vaccine is twofold: One, encourage the safe, scientific and sometimes slow approval process so that Americans can be vaccinated with confidence. And two, when vaccines are approved but remain in limited quantities, prioritize the most at-risk populations to get them first.


Biden said he will work with state and local officials to get mask mandates put into place nationwide.

Angela Lang/CNET

The coronavirus may be among the biggest issues facing Biden when it enters the White House, but it's not the only one. For more information about his approach to other topics, check out our breakdown of Biden's stimulus plan, Biden's views on tech and everything we know so far about Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.