President Joe Biden said on Thursday he would direct U.S. states to make all adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine by May 1 and urged Americans to remain vigilant against the virus, hours after signing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law.
In a primetime televised address on the first anniversary of the U.S. pandemic lockdown, Biden spoke forcefully about the grim impact of the virus, and said he was working to speed COVID-19 vaccinations to create a greater sense of normalcy in the country by the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
That date is a new goal for the president, who has warned Americans that further pain and death were still to come from the virus that has killed more than 530,000 people in the United States, the most of any country. Coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions have cost millions of jobs.
The virus was met with “denials for days, then weeks, then months, that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, more loneliness,” Biden said.
“Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do. In fact, it might be the most American thing we do,” he said.
As the financial stimulus from the bill reaches a growing number of vaccinated people, Biden offered cautious optimism to a country that, like the rest of the world, is tired of pandemic restrictions and economic pain.
Biden said he was ordering U.S. states, territories and tribes to make all adults eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine by May 1. The White House has said it would have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate the population by the end of May. About 10% of Americans have so far been fully vaccinated.
The president also announced an additional 4,000 U.S. troops will help in the vaccination effort, bringing the total to 6,000, and said families and friends should be able gather again in small groups by July 4, a holiday that many Americans celebrate with outdoor parties, hot dogs and fireworks.
The White House is also seeking to expand the pool of people able to administer shots to include dentists, optometrists, paramedics, veterinarians and medical students.
Biden campaigned last year on a promise that he would tackle the pandemic more effectively than Republican President Donald Trump, and he has sought to encourage and model behavior, such as mask-wearing, that Trump eschewed.
He encouraged Americans to keep up mitigation efforts - wearing masks, keeping socially distant and practicing good hygiene - to stop the spread of the virus as the pace of vaccinations increases. A number of states have been loosening restrictions.
Earlier in the day Biden, signed the American Rescue Plan law, designed to be a financial bridge to hard-hit Americans and a boost to the economy, with Vice President Kamala Harris at his side in the Oval Office. The package is a major political victory for the Democratic president less than two months into his administration.
Biden and top members of his administration will embark on a victory lap in coming weeks to laud and explain the legislation, which got final approval from the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation - working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country - a fighting chance,” Biden said before the signing.
Biden’s signing of the legislation, which passed without a single Republican vote, had initially been scheduled for Friday, but White House chief of staff Ron Klain said it was moved up after it arrived at the White House on Wednesday night.
“We want to move as fast as possible,” Klain posted on Twitter. A celebration with congressional leaders would still take place on Friday, he said.
The package provides $400 billion for $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Republicans complained the price tag was too steep.
Biden will discuss the benefits of the pandemic relief bill during trips to Pennsylvania next Tuesday and Atlanta on March 19.
The lockdown from the virus began under Trump, who played down the crisis in its early stages while repeatedly predicting the virus would soon disappear even as his administration pushed to speed up vaccine development.
The former president and his wife, Melania Trump, did not appear in a public service announcement released on Thursday encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations and featuring all of the other living former U.S. presidents and their spouses.
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