At the current rate of infections, the United States may, in fact, be at the apex of a new coronavirus wave in a couple of months. Given this, some medical experts are predicting that the event will not draw the massive crowds that it typically does.
On Monday, roughly ten months into the ongoing pandemic, confirmed coronavirus cases in the country surpassed the grim ten-million mark and related deaths approached 240,000, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. About 20 percent of all cases worldwide are in the United States.
Moreover, forty-three states have reported at least 10 percent more new coronavirus cases compared to last week, and the average daily number of new cases climbed 34 percent over the past seven days, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Despite the fast-rising numbers, Dr. Ian Kim, a physician and a professor at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, took comfort in the fact that Biden “has showed us that during the campaign that he follows recommendations based on scientific evidence.”
“I expect that his inauguration will be held in a COVID-safe manner,” he told The National Interest. “Having said that, anyone contemplating attending the inauguration should understand that risks are always high when you travel and when you are in crowded settings—even if people are wearing masks. Safety at the inauguration event will depend on every person there to take precautions.”
Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious-disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told TNI that “while outdoor events—particularly if everyone wears face coverings—are much lower-risk events than an indoor event, it may still be prudent to restrict the numbers of attendees on the National Mall or in front of the White House to make it easier for people to maintain an appropriate six-foot distance.”
“We’re going to be right in the thick of probably the worst point of this epidemic wave that we’re going through right now,” said Gottlieb, who worked at the FDA under President Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush.
“And you know the Biden campaign, the Biden team, have shown that they’re willing to forgo the usual trappings of running for office so that they don’t expose people unnecessarily. I suspect they’re going to take a similar approach to how they handle the inauguration.”
On Monday, Biden implored all Americans to stop the politicization of public-health precautions, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
“The goal of mask-wearing is not to make your life less comfortable or take something away from you. It’s to give something back to all of us—a normal life,” he said. “The goal is to get back to normal as fast as possible, and masks are critical to doing that. It won’t be forever.”
Biden later added: “It doesn’t matter who you voted for—where you stood before Election Day. It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives—American lives.”
Biden has already selected three prominent physicians to lead his coronavirus task force, who have collectively hinted that they will approach the pandemic far differently than the Trump administration. The group will consult with state and local leaders to help navigate the federal response once Biden is inaugurated.
The twelve-member task force will be co-chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University.
Kim was particularly excited about the inclusion of Dr. Murthy—who was appointed U.S. surgeon general under President Barack Obama in 2014—as he attended business school with Murthy at the Yale School of Management.
“Dr. Murthy has a track record of providing strong leadership while following evidence-based recommendations,” Kim said.
“I can tell you that he will not play politics with science or with the truth—and I believe he will give President-elect Biden good recommendations.”
Gottlieb suggested that Biden and his team should also seek to work with governors to develop a national strategy to tackle the pandemic while Trump is still in office. For a seamless transition at the White House, he noted that there should be adequate supplies of drugs and testing equipment.
“You know, this is going to play out over the next couple of months, and I think as the president takes office, we’ll be coming down the other side of the epidemic curve, hopefully,” Gottlieb said.
“The only question is going to be how many people have died in the course of this and how many people have been infected—and we have to keep those numbers down as much as possible.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.