February 28, 2021

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Joe Biden’s Covid Schooling – WSJ

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Potomac Watch: Rather than reopen classrooms, the new president coasts on his predecessor’s work. Image: Oliver Contreras/Zuma Press

Handling a pandemic is hard work. Lucky for

Joe Biden,

he’s discovering his predecessor did most of the heavy lifting.

Mr. Biden ran on two big promises. One was national unity, which he has redefined as Republicans agreeing to his agenda. The other was to “get control of the virus that’s ruined so many lives”—enabled, he says, by the Trump administration and “the worst performance of any nation on earth.” He would do this by “finally” imposing “a plan” to get the economy running, schools open, vaccines distributed.

The new administration has spent every minute talking coronavirus. Yet 90% of its energy has gone to trashing its predecessor and resetting expectations, not to any sweeping policy change. Logistically, it would seem Mr. Biden inherited a fine plan after all. In the few areas where he might actually force improvement—notably reopening schools—the president has whiffed.

On the top priorities, vaccine production and distribution, Mr. Biden continues to pretend he had to start from scratch. This week he accused the Trump administration of misleading his team about the amount of “vaccine available.” How so? The prior administration started placing bets on vaccine candidates last summer, helping companies manufacture them before clinical trials were complete. By December, two vaccines, from


and Moderna, had panned out, and officials had announced that a total of 400 million doses would be delivered by summer.

The Biden administration has made little change to the vaccine-production plan; there’s nothing much to be done. It made hay of its early decision to order 200 million more doses. But the deal won’t accelerate the pace of production and may prove unnecessary as other vaccines become available sooner. The administration also crowed that it is invoking the Defense Production Act, ordering suppliers to prioritize Pfizer’s demand for raw materials. A good sound bite, though unnecessary. The Trump administration already provided Pfizer priority with a deal in December.

The new administration has made no real changes to vaccine distribution either, relying on the sweeping logistical network already in place. Team Biden did inject racial politics into distribution, announcing this week it would increase “equity” by sending more shots directly to community health centers that serve minorities. Yet these allocations will be small at most, given supply. How good was that existing distribution plan? Mr. Biden within a week of taking office had to revise his “100 million shots in 100 days,” given the states had already outpaced it.

Most of what the administration is doing seems aimed at aggravating the nuisance of Covid mitigation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now suggests that two face masks are better than one, and Transportation Secretary

Pete Buttigieg

is busy on a plan to make airline travel even more onerous.

Most remarkable is the administration’s failure to take steps that would do real good. Parents are revolting now that their children have been denied education for nearly a year. The CDC issued a study saying it’s safe to return, and the Biden-appointed CDC director,

Rochelle Walensky,

last week reaffirmed the teachers can safely return to the classroom prior to getting a vaccine. Yet White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki now says Ms. Walensky was speaking (at an official briefing) in her “personal capacity.” So much for “listening to the experts” and “following the science.”

This is Mr. Biden channeling American Federation of Teachers head

Randi Weingarten.

So much so that the administration this week redefined its goal of opening schools in 100 days. It’s new definition of “open” is 50% of schools holding in-person learning one day a week. Conveniently for Mr. Biden, estimates are that more than 60% of elementary and middle-school students are already getting some form of in-person instruction. Look, the Biden “plan” is working!

Johnson & Johnson

meanwhile has submitted an application for emergency use authorization of its vaccine, of which millions of doses will be available as soon as the Food and Drug Administration approves. Yet rather than use this opportunity to revisit its turtlelike review process, the FDA won’t rouse itself to meet until Feb. 26.

Then there’s Congress’s bipartisan, 56-member Problem Solvers Caucus, which recently issued a plea for a quick vote on a $160 billion package focused entirely on vaccine distribution. This is eminently sensible, so of course House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

and the White House dismissed it. Democrats are willing to delay vaccines rather than risk derailing their $1.9 trillion blowout.

These pages pointed out last year that Mr. Biden’s promises on the pandemic were a “me-too” plan, “little different on the substance” from what the previous administration had been doing. But the voters who believed him are getting a sharp awakening. Get ready for a lot more expectations management.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the February 12, 2021, print edition.

2021-02-11 17:58:00

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