Coronavirus

New lockdown in US: what have Biden and the covid-19 task force said about it?

As the number of coronavirus cases rises some tighter restrictions may be needed to control the pandemic until Pfizer's vaccine is ready to be distributed.

New lockdown in US: what have Biden and the covid-19 task force said about it?
JOE RAEDLE AFP

President-elect Joe Biden gave a speech on Monday promising to “turn this pandemic around”, but warned that America faced the prospect of “very dark winter”. Much of his election campaign was ran on a pledge to take the threat of coronavirus seriously and he will be focused on that in the coming months.

He has already made steps to address the problem and named his covid-19 task force, a 13-member team who will head his administration’s response to the pandemic. The team will be co-chaired by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler; Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former Surgeon General; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, whose research as an associate professor at Yale University has focused on healthcare equity.

Dr. Osterholm floats idea of “economic lockdown”

Yesterday one member of Biden’s covid-19 task force gave an interview in which he suggested that a four-to-six week economic lockdown could help to bring the pandemic under control as the US case numbers continue to rise. Last week the number of new cases nationwide exceeded 100,000 for seven consecutive days, higher than the previous record high.

The prospect of a lockdown would be concerning to many businesses but Dr. Michael Osterholm of the task force told Yahoo Finance than the federal government could give financial support during a economic lockdown.

“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies to medium sized companies,” he said. “Then, we could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year and bringing back the economy long before that.

Osterholm had previously contributed an op-ed in the New York Times, claiming that the previous March-to-May lockdown was not enforced uniformly across the US. “To be effective, the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible”, he said.

What has Joe Biden said about a lockdown?

During the course of the election campaign Joe Biden repeatedly said he would do "whatever it takes to save lives”. When asked specifically about the possibility of a second lockdown, he told ABC News anchor David Muir: "I would shut it [the country] down; I would listen to the scientists".

This strong stance was a key part of his campaign and seems to have triumphed over President Trump’s dismissive approach. While on the campaign trail in the key swing state of Wisconsin, Donald Trump told a crowd:

“It’s a choice between a Trump boom and a Biden lockdown,” Trump said. “Speaking of lockdowns, let’s get your governor to open it up.”

With the number of cases once again rising, Biden’s more cautious and science-led approach has won out and given him a mandate to enforce new restrictions if he feels it appropriate. Wisconsin’s covid-19 restrictions are still in place for now with Governor Tony Evers signing a new executive order on Wednesday, advising residents to stay at home.

Will there be a second lockdown?

Although he is happy to let states make their own rules at the moment Biden has been critical of the lack of uniformity in the nationwide response, suggesting that he may enforce a nationwide lockdown if the situation continues to worsen. For now, a senior advisor from Biden’s transition team has told NBC News that he is looking to apply a nationwide mask mandate for all federal buildings.

Biden is known to be most comfortable building relationships and getting people on side and is said to be planning a charm offensive on governors and mayors around the US to appeal to them to implement mask mandates in their states. He will hope that widespread mask use will make a second lockdown unnecessary.

So there are no immediate plans to enact another lockdown at present, but Biden has insisted that he will follow the science so if the situation continues to worsen it would not be a surprise to see some more stringent restrictions employed at some point this winter.

Speaking on Monday, President-elect Biden said: "the challenge before us is still immense and growing...there's a need for bold action to fight this pandemic.”