Biden also signed 10 pandemic-related executive orders. The 10 orders are aimed at jump-starting his national COVID-19 strategy to increase vaccinations and testing and lay the groundwork for reopening schools and businesses.
“The rollout has been a dismal failure thus far. I understand why Americans are frustrated,” Biden said. “Let me be very clear, things will get worse before they get better.”
Biden also mandated mask-wearing at federal buildings and on interstate travel such as planes, trains and buses.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” Biden said. “We’ll move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free. Yesterday, we directed FEMA to start establishing community-supported vaccination centers.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a Thursday briefing the “crisis is dire and it requires immediate action.”
Biden said vaccines will be available in local pharmacies. He said he tasked the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the pool of professionals to administer the vaccine in an effort to meet his goal of 100 million shots administered in his first 100 days in office.
Biden said moving forward every state will have a “point person at the federal level to maximize communication between state and federal.”
“Our priority and focus is to provide more engagement with states from the federal level. That communication has been lacking so we will focus on improving that in the months ahead,” Psaki said.
Biden is also giving government agencies a green light to use a Cold War-era law called the Defense Production Act to direct manufacturing.
Though the Democratic Party holds narrow majorities in the House and Senate, the legislation will likely need bipartisan support to pass the $1.9 trillion economic relief and COVID-19 response package. Some Republicans have raised questions about sending out more direct payments on the heels of last month’s enactment of a coronavirus aid bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the House of Representatives is aiming to bring a coronavirus relief bill to a vote the first week of February.
Under Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill proposal, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress.
“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the virus requires a coordinated nationwide effort.”
This comes one year after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the United States on Jan. 21, 2020. The first confirmed case by the CDC was a 35-year-old Washington man who had returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China, the then-epicenter of the pandemic.
More than 24.4 million confirmed Americans have contracted the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after it faced criticism from the Trump administration, laying out new commitments to tackle the coronavirus and other global health issues. Fauci said early Thursday that the U.S. will join the U.N. health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, and will resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.
Read the 200-page national strategy below:
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.