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Biden faces challenges

WILIMINGTON, Del. — If Joe Biden wins next week’s election, he says he’ll immediately call Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. He’ll work with governors and local officials to institute a nationwide mask-wearing mandate and instruct Congress to pass a sweeping spending bill by the end of January to address the coronavirus and its fallout.

That alone would mark a significant shift from President Donald Trump, who has feuded with scientists, struggled to broker a new stimulus deal and reacted to the recent surge in U.S. virus cases by insisting the country is “rounding the turn.”

But Biden would still face significant political challenges in combating the worst public health crisis in a century. He will encounter the limits of federal powers when it comes to mask requirements and is sure to face resistance from Republicans who may buck additional spending.

“There are no magic wands,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and former Maryland state health department chief who recently briefed Biden on reopening schools during the pandemic. “It’s not like there’s an election, and then the virus beats a hasty retreat.”

Biden’s handling of the coronavirus is taking on new urgency as cases spike around the country. Average deaths per day nationwide are up 10% over the past two weeks, from 721 to nearly 794 as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed infections per day are rising in 47 states, and deaths are up in 34.

Meanwhile, a fresh outbreak of cases at the White House among Vice President Mike Pence’s staff has revived concerns about the impact of the virus on the government.

The early days of a Biden administration would be consumed by a pandemic response.

“I’m here to tell you we can and will get control of this virus,” Biden said Tuesday during a campaign stop in Georgia. “As president, I will never wave the white flag of surrender.”

A $3 trillion spending package that cleared the Democratic-controlled House has stalled in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold the majority. Biden has called the Senate GOP “so damn stupid” for not passing that measure, but has failed to propose a single comprehensive package of his own.

Instead, he has said Congress should approve $30 billion to help schools reopen and has proposed a $700 billion economic plan. But that plan isn’t solely focused on the coronavirus and includes provisions to boost industries like manufacturing to create jobs and help revive the economy when the pandemic begins to subside.

Biden also wants to declare reopening schools a “national emergency” and access potentially billions more dollars in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster response aid. He’d seek a national system for tracing the exposure path for those diagnosed with the virus — part of a larger public health corps that Biden suggests might function like the civilian-led conservation corps that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created during the New Deal.

And he’s vowed to increase testing capacity in every state until the U.S. is screening daily the 7.5 million people it currently tests per week, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

On other fronts, Biden’s plans seem to be contingent on winning over allies and rivals alike, which may be challenging in the aftermath of a bitter election.

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