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What’s missing in Biden-Harris plan to beat COVID-19?

Strategy is needed to stop outbreak of virus, identify government’s role in supporting K-12 education

The Biden-Harris plan to beat COVID-19 has strong goals, but it lacks a clear strategy to gain control of the virus and needs to identify the role the government can play in supporting K-12 education and our economy, say experts from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Reporters can email marla-paul@northwestern.edu to speak to experts or contact them directly.

Mercedes Carnethon is vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Contact her at carnethon@northwestern.edu.

“What was not explicitly described was the role that the government can play in supporting K-12 education,” Carnethon said. “As we have seen across the country, schools and school districts are left on their own to identify the resources they need to reopen safely. They are able to do this with varying degrees of success, with the larger suburban school districts (L.A., N.Y. and Chicago) largely opting out in favor of remote education. 

“Remote education can be the only option during an emergency — such as what we faced last spring. But in the long run, remote education is perpetuating disparities in educational achievement with well-resourced families able to stay home with their kids to provide education and supervision, while the children of less well-resourced families falling behind and opting out. 

“I would like to see a national commitment to equipping our schools to open safely and to producing PPE for teachers, who should be classified as essential workers. If children cannot go to go school, parents cannot go to work. If they cannot work, economic recovery will be slowed. And as low-income and minority children fall behind in education, the disparities we see in all health outcomes will continue to worsen.“  

Lori Post is director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Contact her at lori.post@northwestern.edu.

“The Biden-Harris plan looks promising to prevent new COVID-19 outbreaks, however, what is not outlined is the need for ongoing systematic public health surveillance to inform these plans. What led to the eradication of COVID-19 in some countries was having a national plan that coordinated with subnational government entities within. And the plan must be implemented at the same time across the U.S. to prevent the embers of COVID from burning in perpetuity.”  

“The Biden-Harris plan would benefit from a forward-looking public surveillance strategy. We don’t just need to count the total number of deaths and infections. That’s the past. It’s essential to know alarming changes in rates of infections and to see where outbreaks are beginning. In summary, public health surveillance is analogous to air traffic controllers who need to advise the pilot how to land an airplane during the middle of a storm.“ 

Dr. Sadiya Khan is an epidemiologist and an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Contact her at s-khan-1@northwestern.edu.

“The plan outlines the critical issue but lacks an action plan on how to accomplish these things,” Khan said. “It’s very generic. There is no meat to very complicated decisions regarding when schools should be opened, when restaurants should be able to serve indoors, and how to decide what thresholds for case positivity rate should be used to create restrictions on social gatherings or stay-at-home mandates. All these details need to be based on science, are likely different across communities and will be dynamic. A plan needs to be in place for contingencies.  

“Effective and equitable distribution of vaccines is needed. How we ensure that when there is a limited supply is going to be challenging. We need additional details on how that will be decided. Will the vaccine be free for everyone?”