After a rancorous and divisive campaign season, Joseph Biden was elected president by a comfortable margin, receiving nearly 80 million votes nationwide—the most ever—and securing 306 votes in the electoral college, the same number Trump did in 2016. But there has been no time for Biden to bask in his victory. Within a week of the election, the country had entered into a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic, with numerous states reporting daily records of infections. Hospitals were quickly overwhelmed, especially in the Midwest, and as Thanksgiving approached experts were warning of new spikes in cases nationwide. The worst is expected to come two weeks after the December holidays, by which time the total number of COVID-19 deaths could well have topped 300,000. The winter might prove to be a time of extended lockdown, plunging still more people into unemployment and further harming an already devastated economy. Though fighting the pandemic was never a priority for Trump, since losing the election he has fully withdrawn from any pretense of responsibility for protecting Americans from its ravages. As David Dayen wrote in the American Prospect, “We’re really on our own” until we see what a Biden administration can achieve.
The incoming president has left no doubt that addressing the pandemic is his first priority. Days after the election, Biden announced the formation of his COVID-19 task force. Staffed by medical and public-health experts, it’s a clear improvement over Trump’s motley crew of pandemic advisors, which combined a few public-health professionals with mask-truthers and yes-men. In a further sign of respect for competence, Biden has named Ron Klain as his chief of staff. Klain oversaw the stimulus package passed at the outset of Barack Obama’s presidency to address the 2008 economic collapse, and also coordinated the federal government’s Ebola response in 2014.