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This week, President Joe Biden announced key components of a coordinated federal response to the pandemic that includes having enough two-dose vaccines to vaccinate every American over age 16 by late summer or early fall. Balancing hope with realistic expectations, the president warned that vaccines will not bring the pandemic to a quick end and asked Americans to “mask up” to help defeat COVID-19.

Healthcare workers at Midwest Center for Women’s Health in Evanston are among those who have been vaccinated.

In his announcement on Jan. 26, President Biden said that vaccine allocations for states will increase by 16% each week for the next three weeks, to a minimum of 10 million doses per week. States will know three weeks in advance how much supply they can expect. The government will also purchase 200 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna for delivery this summer, bringing the total purchased to 600 million.

The new smiling mask emoji inspires optimism.

The president acknowledged that complex challenges and probable setbacks lie ahead, as the nation ramps up its largest ever immunization campaign. The accelerated rollout of the vaccines is taking place amid ongoing concerns about production, storage, delivery to the states, ensuring equity in allocation and getting shots in arms.

Emerging variants of the coronavirus and vaccine hesitancy are two additional hurdles in the battle against COVID-19.

“The brutal truth is, it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of American vaccinated – months. In the next few months, masks, not vaccines, are the best defense against COVID-19. Experts say that wearing masks from now, just until April, would save 50,000 lives. … That’s why I’m asking the American people to mask up for the first 100 days,” President Biden said in his announcement on Jan. 26.

President Biden has led the mask initiative by example, consistently wearing a face-covering and encouraging others to do so. Hours after his inauguration, he also issued mask mandates.

Executive order number one was the ordering of a nationwide mask-wearing and social-distancing mandate on federal lands, in federal buildings, and for federal employees and contractors. A separate executive order requires masks on public transport.

The Centers for Disease Control continues to urge “universal mask use” indoors. The guidance, issued in December, asks people to put on masks in any setting outside their homes.

Although the daily U.S. total of newly reported cases of COVID-19 fell below 200,000 for eight consecutive days toward the end of January, the month had already gone on record as the deadliest yet for the coronavirus pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Health experts are in agreement that universal mask-wearing, in combination with social distancing, frequent washing of hands, and avoiding congregate settings and indoor gatherings, can dramatically reduce the spread of the coronavirus and its variants during the gap in time before herd immunity is achieved with the vaccine.

According to infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, who is President Biden’s chief medical adviser working on the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. could start to see effects of herd immunity and “some form of normality” by early to mid-fall if the coronavirus vaccine rollout goes as planned.

In the meantime, following the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” set forth by the World Health Organization for wearing a fabric mask safely is an immediate measure everyone can take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

The “Do’s’ include: clean your hands before and after touching the mask; wear a mask with at least two layers; cover your mouth, nose and chin; adjust the mask to your face without leaving gaps on the sides; wash the mask daily; and store the mask in a clean plastic, resealable bag if it is not dirty or wet and you plan to re-use it.

Don’t touch the front of your mask; wear the mask under your nose; share your mask with others; or remove the mask when there are people within six feet.

President Biden issued the mask challenge on Dec. 3 in his first joint interview with Vice President Kamala Harris after the election. The following day, the RoundTable began asking readers to send photos of themselves, a family member or friend wearing a mask. A photo of someone wearing a mask to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 will be posted each day until April 30, which marks the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration. Send photos with a brief explanation, if desired, to editor@evanstonroundtable.com