President-elect Joe Biden's Plan For The Coronavirus Pandemic : Consider This from NPR President-elect Joe Biden has outlined a plan to administer 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in his administration's first 100 days. But before that he'll have to convince Congress to pay for it.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow spoke to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris about that, and her reaction to the siege at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Listen to more of their interview on the NPR Politics Podcast on Apple or Spotify.

It's been almost a full year since the first case of coronavirus was detected on Jan. 20, 2019 in Washington state. NPR science correspondent Allison Aubrey looks back at what lessons the U.S. has learned — and what lessons we're still learning.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

1 Year, 400,000 Dead: What Could Change This Week About America's Pandemic Response

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At noon Eastern Time on January 20, America will have a new president with a new way of doing things.

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JOE BIDEN: I know the frustration that we're all feeling. Almost a year later, we're still far from back to normal.

CORNISH: This past week, Biden outlined the details of a multibillion-dollar plan to put more federal muscle behind coronavirus vaccine distribution.

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BIDEN: Our plan is as clear as it is bold. Get more people vaccinated for free. Create more places for them to get vaccinated. Mobilize more medical teams to get the shots in people's arms. Increase supply and get it out the door as soon as possible.

CORNISH: The goal - 100 million vaccine doses dispatched in his first 100 days.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: A hundred million doses in the first hundred days is absolutely a doable thing.

CORNISH: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will be the Biden administration's chief medical adviser on the pandemic, said on NBC's "Meet The Press" this week, it can be done. Biden's other 100-day goal - for all Americans to wear a mask.

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FAUCI: At least for the first hundred days and maybe more, everybody wear a mask. Keep the distance. Avoid the congregate settings.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - in days, the Biden administration will have the full resources of the federal government. We'll hear how Biden's team wants to use those resources to fight the pandemic. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Monday, January 18.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. The person in charge of coordinating the president-elect's pandemic response is Jeff Zients.

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JEFF ZIENTS: So starting on January 20, we're going to throw the full weight and resources of the federal government behind managing this crisis.

CORNISH: Zients, who briefed reporters on a call last week, is a veteran of the Obama administration. He's known as the fixer who came in after the rocky rollout of healthcare.gov. Now, the Biden plan has four key pillars - allow more people to get vaccinated, create more places for more people to get vaccinated, mobilize medical teams to staff those places.

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ZIENTS: And fourth, increase supply to meet the demand across the country, starting with allowing more people to get...

CORNISH: Those are the broad strokes. Here are some of the details. The Biden plan would expand vaccine eligibility nationwide to include everyone 65 and older, as well as teachers, first responders, grocery store employees. Several states have already expanded eligibility to those groups.

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ZIENTS: This doesn't mean everyone in these groups will get the vaccine immediately. But it will mean that as vaccines reach communities, they're administered to people instead of sitting on freezer shelves.

CORNISH: It would also send mobile vaccination clinics to hard-to-reach communities and set up a hundred mass vaccination sites run by FEMA, with help from the National Guard. There would be a public education campaign, specifically about the safety of vaccines, and Biden would take a step the Trump team was reluctant to by using the Defense Production Act to get companies to produce supplies like tubes, syringes and protective equipment.

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BIDEN: All these steps will take some time.

CORNISH: Biden pitched the plan for the first time in a speech this past week.

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BIDEN: It may take many months to get where we need to be. There will be stumbles. And yes, I know so much has already been asked of you. And when we're sworn in next week, we're going to ask you to keep the faith and keep following what we know works.

CORNISH: So how does this all get paid for? Well, the incoming administration will ask Congress to pass a new legislative package worth almost $2 trillion.

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KAMALA HARRIS: And that's why we've called it the American Rescue Plan - because right now, we - a lot of folks need to be rescued.

CORNISH: Days ago, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spoke to NPR about the package. It's about twice as large as the last spending plan passed in December, the one that took months and months of wrangling in Congress.

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SCOTT DETROW: How quickly can this get passed? You are going to spend a lot of times breaking ties in the Senate. Democrats have the narrowest of narrow majorities in both chambers.

HARRIS: Well, let me just tell you, it's our highest priority. It is our highest priority.

CORNISH: Harris spoke to NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, and she couldn't say how quickly Congress might be able to agree to some or all of the administration's proposals. For the state of play here, new lawmakers are sworn in this week, and Democrats and Republicans will each hold 50 seats in the Senate. Democrats could use a Senate procedure to pass Biden's plan with only 50 votes by using the tie-breaking vote that would come from Kamala Harris as vice president. But the Biden administration's package won't be the only thing the Senate is focused on. President Trump's impeachment trial could also start in the Senate in the coming weeks.

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HARRIS: And so we - you know, we don't have a - we can't tell you that it's all going to be over on a certain date, but I can tell you this. On January 20, we're hitting the ground running.

CORNISH: And you can listen to more of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in her interview with Scott Detrow on the NPR Politics Podcast. There'll be a link to that in our episode notes.

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CORNISH: The stakes are high for what Biden does next. He'll take office nearly a year after the first case of the virus was detected in the U.S. That happened on January 20, 2020 in Washington state. Since then, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, nearly 400,000 people have died. And one of them was Reverend John Wilkins from Memphis, Tenn.

TAWANA CUNNINGHAM: He just - he loved life, and he lived it to the fullest.

CORNISH: Tawana Cunningham, one of his three daughters. Her dad loved dogs. He was a boxer. He rode a motorcycle. He had a full-time job with the city parks department. And then there was his music.

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CORNISH: Reverend Wilkins played professionally in the studio and on the road and in his church.

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JOHN WILKINS: (Singing) Blind man (ph), go, go with me down to that down, down home church.

CUNNINGHAM: I just remember growing up, we would all sing. It didn't matter what family function. It would be a birthday. It could be Thanksgiving. It could be Christmas. It could be the Fourth of July.

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WILKINS: (Singing) You talking about a good time at the down home church. You talking about a good time...

CORNISH: Wilkins and his band had even produced an album. But in April of last year, he got COVID-19. He spent nearly two months in the hospital. His daughter Tangela still remembers the stereo they brought him in the hospital with a CD of his album. Hospital staff would play it for him.

TANGELA LONGSTREET: We had the CD, and we took the CD up there. They played the CD every day. And then we would get on the phone every single day, and we talked to Daddy. And we said, Daddy, we're here. We know what's going on. You're going to be OK. Be a fighter, Daddy. Just fight, fight, fight. We're here waiting on you. We're waiting on you to get out. Be a fighter.

CORNISH: Wilkins made it out of the hospital, but back home, he needed dialysis. He couldn't taste food. He lost his appetite. He grew thin and weak. Reverend John Wilkins died on October 6. He was 76.

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WILKINS: (Singing) Walk with me, Lord. Walk with me. Walk with me, Lord. Walk with me. While I'm on this tedious journey, I want Jesus to walk with me. Walk with me, Lord. Walk with me.

CORNISH: Four hundred thousand people is a staggering loss of life, almost the size of Minneapolis. I mean, it's hard to imagine how we got here. Science correspondent Allison Aubrey has been trying to do just that. And she took a look at the past year, at what lessons we've learned and what lessons we're still learning. Here she is with NPR's Steve Inskeep.

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STEVE INSKEEP: What are some of the things we've discovered over the past year about the virus and how to fight it?

ALLISON AUBREY: You know, the first thing is just how it spreads. I mean, we've been in a race against this virus, and the virus has been winning. I spoke to Carlos del Rio. He's an infectious disease doctor at Emory University. You know, he says part of this can be explained by a factor that we were unaware of a year ago, and that's the level of asymptomatic spread, people being infectious without realizing it.

CARLOS DEL RIO: The Achilles heel of this virus and the advantage of the virus has is this asymptomatic transmission. You can be infected and asymptomatic and still be transmitting it. So just because you feel fine doesn't mean that you're not infected. That's a huge lesson.

AUBREY: And it really helps explain how the virus got a foothold and how it came to circulate so widely.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I can remember prominent people, including members of Congress, saying, well, I'm not wearing a mask because I'm not sick.

AUBREY: Right.

INSKEEP: Just looking past asymptomatic spread. Now, we did learn about masks. And we should note that officials were skeptical that a mask would make any difference at first for ordinary people on the street as opposed to hospital personnel. But then they came to think masks were vital for everybody. So what has the evidence actually shown over the months since then?

AUBREY: You know, despite the politicization here, there is a lot of evidence that they help. Consider this one. I mean, thousands of Americans have been surveyed in every state every month, asking to what extent they adhere to social distancing and masking. One scientist behind this project, David Lazer of Northeastern University, told me what they have found is striking.

DAVID LAZER: What we can say from our study is that the states that, through the early fall, were least adherent to social distancing measures and mask-wearing were the earliest states to be hit hard.

AUBREY: In this winter surge.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and it's like a state-by-state national experiment. And now we have results.

AUBREY: That's right. I mean, and later this week, President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign an executive action to, you know, mandate masks on federal property and in interstate travel.

INSKEEP: What have we learned, Allison, about how the virus affects people who do get it?

AUBREY: You know, most people recover fully, but up to 10% of people have lingering symptoms. You've heard them called long-haulers. And people sick enough to be hospitalized tend to fare a lot worse. I spoke to Dr. Emily Brigham about this. She's a co-director at the Johns Hopkins Post-Acute COVID clinic. We spoke about a new study out of China that finds six months post-COVID, about 76% of hospitalized patients have at least one symptom that still persists.

EMILY BRIGHAM: The most common symptoms six months out within the study was reported as fatigue or muscle weakness, which I would say is commensurate with some of our experience at Johns Hopkins.

AUBREY: They also see patients with shortness of breath and lots of other symptoms. You know, it's just another indicator, Steve, of the toll of this virus and the urgency to get people vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Does that lead to another lesson learned? It doesn't have to take five or 10 or 15 years to develop a vaccine.

AUBREY: That's right. As NIH Director Francis Collins wrote recently, developing this vaccine in 10 months, a process that normally takes eight years, is truly unprecedented. But there are major challenges we're seeing given this chaotic rollout in these initial weeks. I spoke to physician Joshua Sharfstein about this. He's now a contender for the top FDA post in the Biden administration. He says there's been a lack of coordination and funding.

JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN: Really, the public health system has been trying to do this with one arm tied behind its back.

AUBREY: You know, the rescue package Congress passed last month will help. Biden will ask for more. And Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that the goal of giving 100 million doses in the first 100 days of the Biden administration is absolutely a doable thing, he said. He says two additional vaccines, including the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, will be evaluated in the next couple of weeks by the FDA.

INSKEEP: So when will the pandemic be under control?

AUBREY: You know, I spoke to Ali Mokdad at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and he says really, the latest modelling is very encouraging. He says if everybody keeps doing our part, we can have, quote, "a good summer."

ALI MOKDAD: All indications right now - simply because of the seasonality and the rise in vaccination, we're going to see much better days ahead of us. If we keep up and keep our guards and remain vigilant, we can have a good summer.

CORNISH: Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington, who spoke to NPR science correspondent Allison Aubrey.

You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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