Biden lays out COVID-19 strategy on first full day in office

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President Joe Biden holds a booklet as he speaks about the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) via CBS News.

President Joe Biden laid out his to plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic on his first full day in office, warning Americans that the worst is still to come.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Biden said during the event at the White House. “Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.”

The president signed 10 executive orders to vastly expand testing and vaccine availability, with the goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses by the end of April. He invoked the Defense Production Act to compel federal agencies and manufacturers to increase key supplies needed to fight the virus, and implemented new travel restrictions meant to curb its spread.

White House officials acknowledge, however, that much of their plan will be impossible if Congress doesn’t pass the administration’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus proposal, and have appealed to the American people to wear masks and socially distance.

While the Trump administration laid the groundwork for development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines through Operation Warp Speed, Mr. Biden said “the brutal truth is it’s going to take months” before the majority of Americans are vaccinated.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” Mr. Biden said, noting the number of Americans who have died from COVID-19, more than 408,000, is more than those who died during all of World War II.

Contributing: Arden Farhi and The Associated Press

Biden’s limited mask mandate may not do much to lift the U.S. economy

Among the flurry of executive actions that President Biden signed in his first day in office is a requirement that people wear masks inside federal buildings, while Americans are being urged to wear facial coverings for 100 days. The idea is to contain the coronavirus and save lives, but there could be a secondary benefit: a boost to the economy.

A national mask mandate could add $1 trillion to the nation’s GDP, according to a recent UCLA study. That’s because the spread of infections could be reduced to zero if used universally and in combination with other public health measures such as contact tracing, the authors found. Other research from researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that communities where mask wearing was mandated benefited from a 5% boost in consumer spending as people felt safer to shop.

But the question is whether Mr. Biden’s mask order goes far enough to make a measurable impact. The mandate doesn’t require all Americans wear masks in public; rather, it applies only to federal buildings on federal lands and to federal employees and contractors. Meanwhile, the nation has a hodge-podge of mask regulations, with 37 states requiring people to wear masks while in public, according to the AARP.

“I am skeptical about whether this action covers enough workers to have a noticeable effect on the economy,” said Raphael Thomadsen, professor of marketing at Washington University in St. Louis and a co-author of the study on consumer spending and masks, told CBS MoneyWatch about Mr. Biden’s mask mandate. “That said, any small effect is likely to be slightly positive.”

But, he added, if more people start wearing masks because of Mr. Biden’s order as well as heed his message that facial covering can help halt the pandemic, the impact could be more widespread — provider greater support for public health and the economy.

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