By Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday will immediately reset the nation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis when he heads to the Oval Office after being sworn in to lead a country reeling from its worst public health crisis in more than a century.
As part of a first sweep of executive actions, Biden will order that all federal employees wear masks and make face coverings mandatory on federal property. He will establish a new White House office to coordinate the coronavirus response and halt the withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization, a process initiated by former President Donald Trump.
Biden was also poised to nominate an acting U.S. surgeon general as soon as Wednesday, a person familiar with the decision told MSNBC, following the resignation of Trump appointee Jerome Adams.
Biden’s executive actions, particularly the mask mandate, are intended to set an example for state and local officials to rein in the virus, which has hobbled the U.S. economy. The United States has reported nearly 200,000 new COVID-19 cases and 3,000 deaths per day on a seven-day rolling average, according to Reuters data. More than 123,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
Scientists and public health experts have said face masks can help prevent the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus, but the coverings have become a flashpoint in American life reflecting the nation’s larger political divide.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Patricia Zengerle and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, Gabriella Borter in Florida; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)