Biden COVID-19 task force says transition delay could be compromising U.S. virus response

A patient arrives outside Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn
A patient arrives outside Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn on Nov. 17, 2020.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Simon Lewis, Gabriella Borter and Anurag Maan, Reuters

Medical experts advising President-elect Joe Biden on the COVID-19 pandemic fear that the federal government’s delay in recognizing Biden’s election victory could be compromising the U.S. response to the virus, the experts said on Tuesday.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, co-chair of Biden’s COVID-19 task force, said the experts had not been able to speak to current administration officials dealing with the virus, even as the United States is hit by a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

That could damage the incoming administration’s ability to distribute a vaccine, for example, Murthy said.

“We need to talk to those individuals, we need to work together with them,” Murthy said on a call with reporters arranged by Biden’s transition team.

The General Services Administrator has not yet recognized Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, which is needed to release government funding for the transition. A spokeswoman said the administrator was following precedent and would make a decision once the winner is clear.

The experts were unable to access real-time data, including on hospital bed capacity and the amount of drugs and equipment in government stockpiles, said Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general and one of 13 experts Biden last week appointed to advise him on COVID-19 during the transition.

“We can look at the publicly available data, but we don’t have access to the full range of information that the federal government has to prepare for January 20,” Murthy said.

Meanwhile, U.S. doctors and nurses, in a letter published on Tuesday, urged the Trump administration to share critical COVID-19 data with President-elect Biden’s transition team to avoid unnecessary delays in tackling the pandemic as infections and hospitalizations skyrocket.

Members of several medical associations made the plea for cooperation a day after Biden warned that “more people may die” if outgoing President Trump continues to block a smooth transition following his defeat in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Health officials have warned that the winter may usher in a new wave of COVID-19 deaths with community spread rampaging across the country and hospitalizations at record levels.

“Real-time data and information on the supply of therapeutics, testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital bed capacity and workforce availability to plan for further deployment of the nation’s assets needs to be shared to save countless lives,” said the letter, signed by the leadership of the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospitals Association.

The soaring rate of new infections this fall, even in states that had managed to keep the virus at bay over the summer, has prompted health and government officials to sound the alarm.

Forty-one U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases in November, while 20 have seen a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.

Twenty-five states reported test positivity rates above 10% for the week ending on Sunday, Nov. 15. The World Health Organization considers a positivity rate above 5% to be concerning.