There is no arguing that the past four years have been difficult for many of us.
As I sat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20 to hear President Biden take his oath of office, it had only been two weeks since insurrectionists had stormed the Capitol, threatening lawmakers and staff, and assaulting law enforcement officers. Five people died. It was the last gasp of a tumultuous period in our history that will one day fill volumes.
And yet from the very start of the inauguration ceremony, I felt we had turned a corner. There was a great sense of positivity, of hope, and a feeling that we were about to reset the course of our nation based on collective values.
However, despite the positive atmosphere at the inauguration, it could not be missed that we were still in the midst of a pandemic. There were no crowds. The sparse group of attendees all wore masks. We remained socially distanced and bundled up in the freezing weather. At that point, COVID-19 had taken the lives of more than 400,000 Americans. Since the inauguration, another 50,000 Americans have lost their lives to the disease.
There are so many priorities that we have to work on — rebuilding the economy, climate change, reestablishing our leadership in the international community, confronting racial inequality, just to name a few — but the Biden Administration, like so many of us in Congress, understands that there is no path forward until we defeat this disease. Unlike the previous administration, the Biden Administration has made the pandemic the priority it must be, and they have done it with openness, honesty, and a trust of the science and experts.
We are now in a dark winter, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel — we have several highly effective vaccines, the pace of vaccinations is finally increasing, and the federal government is coordinating with the states to plug the gaps. FEMA and military personnel are already being deployed to California to directly support our efforts.
I’m working in Congress to pass President Biden’s relief package as quickly as possible. We will boost vaccine production, increase testing, hire thousands of public health workers, and make sure we have more masks and PPE. We will give state and local governments the resources they need to maintain critical services and boost their efforts to fight the pandemic. We will make sure our economy recovers quickly, and make sure that no one is left behind. The president is also proposing funds to get children back to school safely, money to our hard-hit small businesses, funds to extend unemployment benefits, help to keep Americans roofs over their heads, address the hunger crisis, expand health coverage and expand the minimum wage to $15. It’s a $1.9 trillion bill — money well spent.
Unfortunately, we are facing a ticking clock. While we move from the non-existent Trump plan to President Biden’s plan — a Herculean effort that will take time — the virus is changing.
Our early evidence suggests that the current vaccines work well against these new variants, Dr. Fauci and other experts stress that we must get as many people as possible vaccinated right now. Quite simply, we are in a race, and mass vaccination is the best solution.
We also have to accept that a vaccine does not mean any of us are free and clear. We will still have to wear masks and social distance for some time to come.
I know people are frustrated and scared. I take hope, though, from the fact that together, our country is acknowledging the severity of the challenge we face and stepping up to end the crisis. The president is listening to the experts and the scientists. We are working hard to implement his plan to get more aid to people and businesses in need.
It has only been a little over two weeks since President Biden took office, but I believe that we are already making important progress. The leadership of President Biden and his administration will ensure that we defeat this disease sooner rather than later.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal represents the 47th District, which includes most of Long Beach.