The Current

These Americans express optimism Biden can turn the tide on pandemic

The newly-inaugurated president aims to ramp up vaccinations as U.S. death toll surpasses 400,000

Posted: January 20, 2021
Last Updated: January 20, 2021

Dr. Dara Kass, an ER physician in New York, former Harvard Medical School professor William Haseltine, and Kimberly Worl, president of the Orange County Funeral Directors Association, are hopeful that the Biden administration will change how the pandemic and health care are addressed in the United States. (Marc Goldberg; ACCESS Health International; Submitted by Kimberly Worl)

Show more
More than 400,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in the U.S. William Haseltine, president of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International, weighs up Biden's plan to get the pandemic under control. Plus, we talk to Kimberly Worl, a funeral director in hard-hit California, and Dr. Dara Kass, an ER physician in New York.  23:21

As Joe Biden takes the helm as president of the United States on Wednesday, some Americans are hopeful the new administration will steer the country's COVID-19 response in a new and more unified direction.

"We have lived this pandemic for a year in New York and in America with absolutely no guidance … [and] no federal leadership," Dr. Dara Kass, an ER physician in New York, told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"So I'm really optimistic that we're all going to be on the same page and finally start to actually address this virus from a scientific and a public health standpoint that really empowers our citizens to feel like we are moving towards some future that's better than the past."

ADVERTISEMENT

Biden has vowed to take a science-based approach to turning the COVID-19 pandemic around upon his swearing-in, which comes a day after the U.S. reached more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths.

As part of his efforts, Biden proposed a $1.9-trillion coronavirus plan last week that includes a target of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration. The plan also promises more financial support for people struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, and a goal of reopening most schools by spring.

The plan is in stark contrast to the approach of former president Donald Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus and cast doubt on the effectiveness of wearing masks.

Kass, who is also a Yahoo! News medical contributor, said state governors, local officials and health-care workers have been left by the Trump administration to fight the pandemic on their own, with "no federal support for procurement of PPE, for testing, for innovations."

She said the United States needs leadership that will inspire people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, "without undermining the idea that there are still questions we have to ask."

ADVERTISEMENT

U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9-trillion plan to tackle COVID-19, which includes a target of administering 100 million vaccines within his first 100 days in office. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

William Haseltine agrees that American society is fractured right now. 

The former Harvard Medical School professor and president of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International said the country hasn't been able to achieve the "level of social solidarity" it needs to tackle the pandemic.

He's optimistic that things will change under the Biden administration — over time.

"You can't change public perceptions immediately, but you can through persistent, patient messaging with good leadership from the top on down," Haseltine said. 

"The divisions over COVID have been political more than they've been medical or [related to] public health," he added. "I think with the new administration, we have a chance to at least heal some of those political differences." 

Calls for national health-care system

Kimberly Worl, president of the Orange County Funeral Directors Association, has seen the devastating impact of the rising coronavirus death toll in her state of California — one of the hardest-hit states throughout the pandemic.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to the L.A. Times, California has averaged 469 deaths per day over the last week, which marks an increase of nearly 30 per cent from two weeks ago. 

"In my community … a young gentleman, 21 years old, he was having trouble breathing but was too afraid to call the ambulance because he was afraid of the bill that he couldn't pay," Worl said. 

"And that is just absolutely heartbreaking. We should never have to have our children dying at home because they're too afraid to call 911."

She hopes the ongoing health crisis will push her country to adopt a national health-care system.

We should never have to have our children dying at home because they're too afraid to call 911. - Kimberly Worl, Orange County Funeral Directors Association president

The pandemic, which has become both an economic and a health crisis, goes to show the problem with tying health insurance to employment, said Dr. Kass. 

"You can't have people lose their job and their health care at the same time," she said. 

ADVERTISEMENT

While Kass believes the United States is still far from having a singular, national health-care program,  she sees Biden's presidency as a chance to take significant steps forward. 

"We're going to see, I think, the president-elect … come out with innovative and, you know, really necessary improvements to our health-care system that will start to build the foundation … for a public option that's a stopgap for all Americans to have access to a public health program that fills their needs."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Ines Colabrese.