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Biden's COVID-19 Advisers Plead For 'Ascertainment' So They Can Plan For January

President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisers say they urgently need access to federal agencies to begin the transition.
Carolyn Kaster
President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisers say they urgently need access to federal agencies to begin the transition.

President-elect Joe Biden's advisers on the coronavirus pandemic urged the Trump administration on Tuesday to take the formal step that will allow them to tap into data on the pandemic and have conversations with people inside the administration who can tell them what the federal government already has in the works in their COVID-19 response.

They said it is urgent that the General Services Administration formally "ascertain" the winner of the presidential election so that they can learn more about plans for vaccine distribution. They told reporters they don't have access to the government's real-time data on the pandemic and its spread.

Biden's team is alarmed by what they are seeing from public data, telling reporters the current surge in cases is by far the worst it has been. They said they don't know when cases will peak because much depends on local government guidelines and individual choices.

The Biden transition is preparing plans to distribute vaccines and therapeutics and to ramp up testing after Inauguration Day. But Biden adviser Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general, said it would be much better to do that in collaboration with people already working on the issue within the federal government.

"There is valuable information inside the administration that is held by career officials, by political appointees and others who have been working hard on the COVID response for the last year," said Murthy. "We need to talk to those individuals. We need to work together with them. And if we do that then I am confident we can come up with the best possible plans for the country on January 20."

Biden's team also wants more insight into supplies of personal protective equipment. "There has to be Day One readiness," said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, another Biden COVID adviser. "If you want a smooth transition, we need to be working together."

On Thursday, Biden and his transition team are planning to meet with a bipartisan group of governors to talk about the pandemic, and planning that is going on at the state level.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.