WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, separated by 160 kilometers and a much wider political distance, held simultaneous events Tuesday focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, in the White House South Auditorium, signed an executive order to ensure Americans get “first priority” access to a coronavirus vaccine, although it is unclear how that would be enforced.
“Under this order, the secretary of Health and Human Services is directed to provide priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to Americans,” according to the White House, which did not provide further details.
Before signing the document, the president addressed members of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine distribution team and his coronavirus task force about plans for mass immunization.
“Over the next few months, the numbers should skyrocket downward” of those infected with the virus, said Trump. “This is one of the greatest miracles of modern-day medicine.”
In a theater in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, Biden was less optimistic at a time when COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations have soared to record levels in the United States.
“As a country, we've been living with this pandemic for so long, we're at risk of becoming numb to its toll on all of us,” said the president-elect, while introducing his health leadership team. “We're resigned to feel that there's nothing we can do. We can't trust one another, that we must accept death, pain and sorrow.”
Biden, promising 100 million vaccine shots within the first 100 days of his administration, said that will not be enough to eradicate the virus but “we can change the course of the disease.”
Biden said that “as a new president I am going to speak directly to the American people. Wear a mask for just 100 days. Help yourself, your family and your community. Mask up for 100 days once we take office.”
Trump, responding to a reporter’s question about why no members of the president-elect’s health team were invited to Tuesday’s White House event, continued to insist there is no guarantee Biden will take office on January 20, 2021, the scheduled day of his inauguration.
“We won” the November 3 election, insisted Trump, who decisively lost the popular and Electoral College vote count to Biden. “Hopefully the next administration will be the Trump administration in continuation.”
The president also termed it “terrific” that 15 percent of Americans have caught the coronavirus, suggesting that was a positive step toward herd immunity. Most scientists say about 70 percent of any population would have to either have caught COVID-19 or been immunized to break the chain of the pandemic.
More than 15 million people in the United States have been infected by the coronavirus and 285,000 people have died – the highest number of such deaths and illnesses reported by any country.