Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has signed multiple executive orders aimed at combating the Covid-19 pandemic, starting with a “100 Days Masking Challenge” mandating face coverings on federal property and a return to the Paris Climate Change pact.
The US president has also reversed his predecessor’s move to defund the World Health Organisation (WHO), in addition to relaunching the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, a position created by former president Barack Obama in 2015 and liquidated by Trump in 2018.
Trump withdrew the US from the climate pact on his first day in office in 2017. Biden’s order would see the US rejoin within 30 days, with former secretary of state John Kerry now acting as “climate czar” in charge of its implementation.
After taking the oath of office on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, the newly inaugurated president issued his first executive order, dubbed the “100 Days Masking Challenge.” Biden campaigned extensively on his predecessor Donald Trump’s alleged ineptitude in managing the Covid-19 pandemic, and has made a point of being seen in public with a mask at all times.
Biden’s coronavirus czar, Jeff Zients, explained the executive order as directing federal “agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands and by federal employees and contractors.”
The order has no effect on state governments, though it “will call on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders and others to implement masking, physical distancing, and other measures to control Covid-19,” Zients said.
Biden has been a champion of mask-wearing, though the scientific justification for a sweeping face-covering mandate remains up for debate. He deemed it “stupid” that mask use had become a political issue and has attempted to reframe it as “a patriotic act,” declaring last week that “we are in a war with this virus.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the public face of the country’s Covid-19 response, will give a speech to the WHO executive board on Thursday, presumably outlining the Biden administration’s shift from its predecessor’s policies. In addition to his role as head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Fauci will take on another role as chief medical adviser to the Biden administration.
Biden has declared a goal of vaccinating 100 million people within his first 100 days in office, appointing Dr. David Kessler – a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner – to lead Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s inoculation initiative. Moncef Slaoui, the former GlaxoSmithKline exec who chaired the project under Trump, will remain with the project as a consultant.
A slew of “human rights” measures saw Biden reaffirming White House support for Obama’s DACA program, which Trump tried to rescind but was stalled by the courts. He also lifted Trump’s restrictions on travel from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, and Tanzania – dubbed the “Muslim ban” by critics – and ordered the State Department to restart visa applications for them.
Trump’s national emergency declaration that allowed for funding to be diverted for the construction of the border wall with Mexico was also among the measures reversed by Biden on his first day, along with an order to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to change its enforcement “in line with our values and priorities,” though specifics weren’t made available.