In a speech Monday after meeting with the 12-member coronavirus task force advising him during the transition before his January 20 inauguration, Biden implored Americans to stop the politicization of basic public health precautions, like mask-wearing and social distancing.
“The goal of mask-wearing is not to make your life less comfortable or take something away from you. It’s to give something back to all of us: a normal life,” he said. “The goal is to get back to normal as fast as possible, and masks are critical to doing that. It won’t be forever.”
Wearing a mask, he said, was “not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together.”
Biden’s comments come after he defeated President Donald Trump in a race in which mask-wearing became a political topic, with Biden urging Americans to follow public health experts’ guidance and Trump refusing to do so — holding rallies and White House events largely maskless attendees and downplaying their importance.
“It doesn’t matter who you voted for; where you stood before Election Day,” Biden said Monday. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives — American lives.”
He called drug-maker Pfizer’s Monday announcement that early data shows its coronavirus vaccine is more than 90% effective good news. But he said the pandemic is an “immense and growing” threat and that a “dark winter” is still likely, with the numbers of cases and deaths reaching new peaks in recent days.
Biden’s transition team earlier Monday morning announced the group of public health experts that will make up his coronavirus advisory board, which includes Rick Bright, a whistleblower from the Trump administration who alleged that his early warnings about the pandemic were ignored and ultimately led to his removal.
The task force is chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler and Yale University’s Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. Among the other thirteen members are Dr. Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and Dr. Zeke Emanuel, one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act and an ex-Obama health adviser.
Both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a briefing from the transition coronavirus advisory board on Monday.
Since the outset of the pandemic, Biden pledged repeatedly on the campaign trail that he would listen to the advice from scientists and public health experts about the pandemic if elected president and slammed Trump’s handling of the virus. In his first remarks as the President-elect, he said he believes the mandate given to the American people includes marshaling “the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.” The first such battle Biden cited was that to control the virus.
The coronavirus upended the presidential election and provided a stark divide in the race, with Biden pledging to take the pandemic seriously, while Trump diminished the importance of the virus and often complained that it was taking up too much focus on the campaign trail — even after he contracted it himself.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect a quote from Biden’s speech on Monday.
CNN’s Dan Merica and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.