What should be on the transition’s COVID-19 task force to-do list?

BOSTON — He won’t take office until January 20, 2021, but President-elect Joe Biden plans to begin tackling Monday the issue that may come to define his presidency: the pandemic.

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Monday, Biden plans to name a COVID-19 Task Force to address the virus that’s killed more than 230,000 Americans since last winter.

“I think the scientific and medical communities were both very relieved to hear that the federal government is going to play a major role in combating this epidemic,” said Dr. Robert Finberg, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

To this point, the federal government’s response to the virus could be summed up as ‘geographically discordant.’ As one area got things under control – using lockdowns and other such measures – other areas began opening up their economies – too quickly, it turned out in the cases of the south and the west – and a summer surge was established.

“I think there’s been a bit of playing whack-a-mole,” said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “You can’t contain a pandemic with half-way measures in half the states. It has to be the same measures throughout the country.”

Unity of response would be advantageous in several areas that, for now, could help contain the virus, and, later, stop it in its tracks.

“We need to ramp up testing, so we can identify those people who are infected and potentially contagious to others, even if they don’t have symptoms,” Dr. Kuritzkes said.

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“We need to make sure that the vaccine is safe and effective, and then we need to get it out to people,” added Dr. Finberg.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for the task force and the new administration: getting Americans to buy-in to the continuing seriousness of the pandemic.

With more young people getting infected than old, there are fewer deaths. And there is ample fatigue. After some 10 months of life-altering changes, the last thing many Americans want to hear is that it’s not over by a long shot.

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