On Jan. 20, President Biden issued two executive orders intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The first executive order creates the role of a COVID-19 response coordinator to oversee the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This position reports directly to the President and is responsible for directing the efforts across a range of federal government activities to respond to the pandemic. This includes – through use of the Defense Production Act – managing efforts to produce, supply, and distribute personal protective equipment, vaccines, and tests. The order instructs federal agency heads to bring any issues that have hindered the federal response to COVID-19 to the response coordinator, in an effort to address them quickly. It is reported that Jeff Zients, who oversaw President Biden’s COVID-19 team during the transition, has been appointed to the role.
A separate executive order is designed to encourage mask wearing and social distancing. It requires face masks to be worn and physical distancing maintained in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by all federal employees (including members of the armed forces) and contractors. The order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to engage with state, local, tribal, and territorial officials, as well as business, union, academic, and other community leaders to increase mask usage and the practice of other public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, the order creates a task force to provide guidance to federal agency heads on workforce safety issues related to COVID-19. It will address issues such as testing, contact tracing, vaccination distribution, personal protective equipment, and work spaces.