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Jan. 20, 2021, 1:00 p.m. EST

Biden to overhaul U.S. pandemic management as death toll heads above 402,000

New president is expected to rejoin WHO, sign up for COVAX program and restore NSC-backed pandemic committee

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The global case tally for the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 96.4million on Wednesday, and the U.S. death toll headed above 402,000 as President Joe Biden was inaugurated with plans to fully overhaul the U.S. approach to the pandemic.

Biden is expected to reclassify COVID-19 as a National Emergency when the current one expires on Feb. 28, and is expected to restore the U.S. membership of the World Health Organization, which his predecessor pulled out of last year in a move that would become effective July 6.

Those are just two items on a long list compiled by Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins of actions the new administration is very likely to take in the first quarter, including enrolling the U.S. in the COVAX program, a multilateral initiative designed to pool resources and guide on such issues as vaccine research, development, procurement and distribution.

“The Obama administration created the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense to look after the nation’s responses to pandemics,” Meekins wrote in a note to clients. “The Trump administration removed the Directorate in 2018 during an NSC reorganization. Biden has said that he plans to restore the Directorate.”

Live blog: Joe Biden to be inaugurated as 46th U.S. president: live updates

Biden has pledged to implement a nationwide vaccination program that will relieve the burden on states and fight misinformation campaigns. The administration of President Donald Trump was widely criticized for failing to create a national plan for managing the crisis at any stage, leaving it to states to handle every aspect of the illness from testing to public information campaigns and making decisions on whether to close schools or businesses.

See now: Here’s the maximum amount Biden’s stimulus checks and tax credits would deliver to America’s poorest families

Biden has assembled a team of health care experts to guide his government’s handling of the crisis, and to encourage face mask mandates. The new president has pledged to assemble a task force to address the racial and ethnic disparities that has meant people of color have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. He is planning a National Pandemic Dashboard with real-time data on the status of the virus among the general public.

Meekins deems it “somewhat likely” that Biden will resume the holding of daily White House COVID briefings.

It’s now exactly a year since the first COVID-19 case was identified in the U.S. and the nation continues to lead the world by cases, at 24.3 million, and fatalities, at 402,977, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. That’s about a fifth of the global tallies for each.

The U.S. added another 185,070 new cases on Tuesday, and at least 2,770 people died, according to a New York Times tracker. The U.S. has averaged 201,117 cases a day for the past week, exceeding the worst-case-scenario forecasts of experts back in the spring.

See now: CDC officials say people with history of allergic reactions should be monitored after receiving a COVID-19 shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Tuesday, just 15.7 million people had been vaccinated, way below the 20 million that were promised by end-December. Just 31.2 million doses have been distributed, or enough to vaccinate about 15 million Americans, as the vaccines that have received emergency use authorization — one developed by Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +1.10% , and another developed by Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -0.08% — require two doses.

Read: Instacart, Trader Joe’s, Dollar General plan financial incentives to encourage workers to get vaccinated

The vaccination drive has taken on a sense of new urgency since the emergence in the U.K, South Africa and Brazil of new variants of the virus that are understood to be up to 70% more infectious, although they do not seem to make people sicker.

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