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The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Be One Of Biden's Biggest Obstacles

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In his speech last night, President-elect Biden put one issue front and center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I will spare no effort - none - or any commitment to turn around this pandemic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: With a record number of infections, the death toll rising and the country exhausted from COVID-19 restrictions, it will be one of his most difficult tasks. Biden has been getting regular briefings from his team of COVID advisers. Dr. Nicole Lurie is one of them. She was the top official in the Obama administration working on preparing for pandemics. And she joins us now.

Welcome.

NICOLE LURIE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. The U.S. is really in crisis right now when it comes to the pandemic. The Trump administration has taken, frankly, to mocking efforts to control it. So it seems like the situation will only be worse come Inauguration Day. What should Joe Biden's first order of business be?

LURIE: Well, the first order of business is leadership, and I think you heard that last night. He's not waiting till the inauguration to get going. As he said, he's naming a transition task force on Monday. But in truth, that's been weeks in the making because he's already been preparing for this moment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have been, you know, helping to brief the president-elect. What has his team been telling him?

LURIE: Well, I think, first of all, that everybody is clear that we need to unite around a common goal. There needs to be a single source of truth, and it needs to be communicated clearly. And he needs to be modeling and is modeling the kind of behavior that we want to see. A clear message from him last night and I think a clear message from his team all along - the virus is the enemy, not one another. It's not public health versus the economy. It's all of us together versus the virus. And everybody in this country needs to do their part.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: More specifically, though, are we looking at a universal sort of mask mandate? Will Anthony Fauci stay in his position? I mean, specifically, what's going to happen?

LURIE: All great questions - and understand that I can't speak for the president-elect...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sure.

LURIE: ...Or the task force. But what I expect to see is the task force develop a really clear set of objectives and be very clear about how to meet them. And they're going to have to include doing everything we can do to suppress transmission, leaving sort of no options and no stones unturned. And we know that that's going to involve masks and social distancing and testing and reaching out to governors and mayors and business community and unions and faith leaders around the country to have them all on board.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the most difficult things, of course, has been what to do with the economy. President Trump claimed during the campaign that Biden will shut down the country in order to get the pandemic under control. Biden has said he will not. Can you talk a little bit about Biden's plans? - because we've seen European nations have to grapple with this very issue. I mean, the United Kingdom is shutting down now and other places in Europe.

LURIE: They have. And one of the very challenging things I think the team is going to have to deal with is that over the past couple of months and even between now and January, the pandemic is getting more and more out of control. And so the sooner we wrap our arms around putting these measures to suppress in place, the better.

The president-elect has also been really, really clear about - this is not a choice between public health and the economy. And so we need to get a stimulus bill passed. We need to get the resources into communities to fight this pandemic, to do the testing and tracing, to be ready for a vaccination campaign, to support people financially if they're sick so that they actually do stay home from work - all of those other pieces that are going to be essential to reopening the economy. And then I think you can expect to see the development of some common national standards for what you do in different communities when the pandemic is at different levels.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that means what exactly? Just looking at different places...

LURIE: Well, it means that I think you're going to want to avoid trying to shut down the whole country but to the extent that you can tailor the interventions, depending on the severity of the pandemic in any given location. And so in some places, that may mean really rolling back to phase one - staying at home, doing those things for a short time. And those are - I think are going to be local and state-level decisions but guided by national standards, which we haven't had at all.

In other places where the pandemic is more under control or transmission isn't that bad, you look for other evidence-based ways to keep things as normal as possible. But all of that is really going to depend on the basics of people willing to wear masks, people willing to social distance, people willing to do those things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

LURIE: And uniting around those common public health measures while we get ourselves ready for a vaccine is going to be critical.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Nicole Lurie is an adviser to President-elect Biden.

Thank you very much.

LURIE: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.