While the development of multiple vaccines in less than one year is a major scientific achievement, the pandemic is still getting worse.
- Multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are actively spreading around the world, with one as much as 70% more transmissible—meaning many times more infections and deaths.
- Health care systems are reaching capacity, or over capacity. The entire city of Los Angeles has had to begin a triage system for emergency cases.
- Vaccine distribution is not moving quickly enough to reach population-wide immunity in the first half of 2021, which means lockdowns are expected to continue and economic hardship will deepen.
- Poverty and hunger are spreading worldwide, with acute hunger (near starvation) doubling to more than 250 million. In the US, food banks are projected to be billions of meals short by mid-year.
- There are projections the US will see 3,000 and even 4,000 deaths per day in coming weeks, possibly losing 92,000 people in just 3 weeks.
Tonight, on the eve of his inauguration and swearing in as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden spoke to the nation from the Lincoln Memorial, looking out over the reflecting pool, lined with 400 lights, one for every 1,000 lives lost over the last year. He was joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as well as the First Lady and the nation’s first Second Gentleman.
In his remarks, President-elect Biden asked the nation to pause to remember, and to grieve together, for all who have been lost to COVID-19:
To heal, we must remember. It’s hard, sometimes, to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all whom we’ve lost.
What must not be lost about this moment is that the outgoing administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic—including very deliberate sabotage of response measures based on the best available science—means many of the instruments of national response are still not fully activated.
On Day 1, President Biden will have to begin reinvigorating the federal government’s relationship to science, even as that government works to achieve an unprecedented vaccination program, to contain still emerging more virulent strains, and to shore up collapsing hospital systems.