WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden spent his first 100 days in office encouraging Americans to mask up and stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. His task for the next 100 days will be to lay out the path back to normal.
When he entered office, Biden moved swiftly to overcome problems with vaccine supply and more than tripled the country’s ability to administer them. But ending the coronavirus pandemic, the central challenge of his presidency, will require not only putting shots into arms — a task now growing more difficult as demand sags — but also a robust plan to help the nation emerge from a year of isolation, disruption and confusion.
If Biden launched the nation onto a war footing against a virus that infected nearly 200,000 Americans in January and killed about 3,000 of them per day, the next months will be tantamount to winning the peace. Already, deaths are down to fewer than 700 per day, and average daily cases are below 60,000. U.S. officials insist there is a long way to go before the country can be fully at ease, but the progress is marked.
Going forward, success will mean finishing the nation’s herculean vaccination campaign — to date, 43% of Americans have received at least one shot — overcoming lagging demand and communicating in clear terms what activities can be safely resumed by those who are vaccinated. Key milestones include Biden's July Fourth pledge that Americans can safely gather with friends and family, and the start of the new school year, when the president hopes to have all schools open safely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday unveiled new guidance lessening requirements for outdoor mask-wearing, especially for vaccinated people.
“We’re excited about the progress we’ve made, and the opportunity ahead of us, and because of the vaccination program we built we’re further along than almost anyone predicted,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients in a Monday interview. “It means we’re closer to returning to normal.”
Highlighting the new guidelines at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said the vaccines are increasingly helping America “get back to more normal living,” and he promised more details next week on making that possible. It's part of what officials said will be a focus in the coming weeks on easing restrictions for vaccinated people, both in recognition of their lower risk and as an incentive to get shots.
“Getting together with friends, going to the park for a picnic without needing to mask up, we’re back to that place now as long as you get vaccinated," Biden said. "So go get the shot.”