WILMINGTON, Delaware — Without access to the US government’s data and planning documents on COVID-19, President-elect Joe Biden made a move on Thursday to begin working directly with governors as the pandemic hits a dangerous new phase. But without the Trump administration’s cooperation, there’s not much concrete progress the transition team can make to help governors curb the pandemic in the coming weeks.
More than 250,000 people in the US have already died from COVID-19, and more than 60,000 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. Public health experts have warned that this period before a vaccine becomes available has the potential to be the most deadly for Americans — especially with people going indoors during winter weather and making travel plans over the holidays.
On Thursday, Biden met virtually with the leadership of the National Governors Association, including five Republican governors, to discuss COVID-19 surges and what their states need to be able to control the pandemic. Those governors included Republicans Kay Ivey, Asa Hutchinson, Gary Herbert, Larry Hogan, and Charlie Baker.
"Now getting into the holidays, you're facing another surge ... including huge pressure on your hospitals,” Biden told the governors, who joined him via videoconferencing.
“You need help. I want you to know I will be your partner in the White House,” he said. “Thank you for doing this. It's a bipartisan union here, and I want to hear from all of you."
Biden said there was “consensus” among the bipartisan group on the way forward in dealing with COVID-19: that the federal government needs to be “delivering economic relief” to cities and states, securing federal funding for the National Guard and FEMA to help with relief efforts, getting people safe and free vaccines, improving access to testing, and instituting a nationwide mask-wearing mandate.
He said governors are seeking federal funds for economic relief, which “includes helping businesses, schools, and working families — from unemployment benefits to early education to continued access to affordable healthcare during the pandemic.”
Biden indicated that he will continue to meet with the governors and that their input would inform his COVID-19 plan as the pandemic develops.
“Our COVID teams will follow up and coordinate on the issues coming out of the call,” Biden said.
But it’s not clear exactly what coordination and planning is possible for the transition team without having access to pandemic data and information about how vaccines could be rolled out.
President Donald Trump continues to falsely claim that he won the election despite decisive results in Biden’s favor, and refuses to cooperate with the president-elect's transition or even directly address the third surge of the pandemic. He has instead continued to downplay the risks of COVID-19 and escalate his efforts to get state officials to help him to invalidate the election results. The Trump-appointed administrator of the General Services Administration has also refused to acknowledge the election result — a move that is necessary for Biden’s transition team to receive federal funding and access to government data.
Biden’s COVID-19 response team, which he convened two days after winning the election, has not had access to inside data on how the virus is spreading and the government’s capacity to combat it, or access to information about whether Trump’s administration is working on plans to distribute vaccines as they become viable in the coming months.
On Thursday, Biden said he is not taking legal action against the GSA to move the transition along because he believes “that we will get further along by actually working with our Republican colleagues." He added that he has not, however, ruled out legal action.