Biden plans to urge all Americans to wear masks for 100 days after inauguration

Joanna Walters in New York and Kari Paul in San Francisco

Joe Biden intends to call for all Americans to wear masks for 100 days after he becomes president in an attempt to bring down infection rates, as the coronavirus crisis continues to rage out of control in the US.

The president-elect and vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, have also committed to receiving coronavirus vaccinations as soon as possible when, as expected, the first vaccines are approved by US regulators.

Sitting for their first joint interview since the November election, with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Biden said he would be willing to join with the three previous US presidents who pledged on Thursday that they would be injected with the Covid-19 vaccine in public in order to boost faith in the inoculations among the American public.

Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama all said they would be willing to be vaccinated on television, once a vaccine is approved in the US.

Related: 'Not enough to go around': US states struggle to decide who should get Covid vaccine first

“I would be happy to do that one,” Biden said when asked if he would be prepared to have the coronavirus vaccine before he is inaugurated as the 46th president in January.

He added: “I think that my three predecessors have set the model as to what should be done.”

Biden said he would adhere to what Obama said on Thursday: that the former president, would be vaccinated if Anthony Fauci, the top public health official on the White House coronavirus taskforce, affirmed that the vaccines awaiting US regulatory approval for emergency use are safe.

“When Dr Fauci says we have a vaccine and it’s safe, that’s the moment at which I will stand before the public … Part of what’s happened is that people have lost faith in the ability of the vaccine to work … It matters what a president and a vice-president do.

“That’s my measure,” Biden said.

Harris has previously said in an interview that she’s be eager to line up for a shot when Fauci says it’s safe to do so.

Earlier on Thursday, the former president Jimmy Carter, who is 96, put out a statement via his charitable foundation the Carter Center, saying that he and his wife Rosalynn “are in full support of Covid-19 vaccine efforts and encourage everyone who is eligible to get immunized as soon as it becomes available in their communities”.

Donald Trump has not spoken publicly about whether he will get the vaccine. On Thursday he remained silent about the record deaths and hospitalizations recorded in the US in the previous 24 hours, as the American death toll exceeded 275,000 and recorded cases crossed the 14m threshold, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Biden also answered “yes and yes” when asked if he had spoken to Fauci since beating Trump in the November presidential election and whether he would keep Fauci on as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a role he has held since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was president.

Biden said he spoke to Fauci on Thursday afternoon and his “Covid team” of health advisers had also spoken with him.

He said he also asked Fauci to be his chief medical adviser and be part of the Covid team advising him on the pandemic.

Trump has in recent months tried to sideline Fauci while taking advice from less qualified figures such as Scott Atlas, who resigned from his position as a White House adviser on the pandemic earlier this week. He boosted the president’s public ambivalence on protections such as mask-wearing and rules on social distancing.

In contrast, Biden said he had talked to Fauci on Thursday about face masks. “It’s important that the president and the vice-president, we set the pattern by wearing masks, but beyond that, where the federal government has authority I’m going to issue a standing order that in federal buildings you have to be masked, and on interstate transportation you must be masked, on airplanes and buses, etc,” he said.

Both Harris and Biden have committed to taking a Covid vaccine as soon as possible.
Both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden have committed to taking a Covid vaccine as soon as possible. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The president-elect then added that it was his “inclination” that on the first day of his presidency “I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask, just 100 days, not for ever … and I think we’ll see a significant reduction that occurs, with vaccinations and masking, to drive down the numbers considerably.”

Biden said he had spoken with teachers’ unions in addition to public health experts about the best practices to keep schools open. This includes vaccines, frequent testing, and sanitizing at schools. He added that there was a clear path to keeping kids in school, but it would not be cheap.

“It’s going to cost literally billions of dollars to get this done,” Biden said.

The pair also addressed other aspects of their agenda, including tackling the climate crisis. Answering a question on whether their ambitious goals will be achievable, given obstructions by Congress, Harris said: “Our agenda is pretty progressive. And some might call it ambitious. But we, the American people, and frankly the world, can’t afford anything less. The clock is ticking rapidly on this issue.”

CNN’s Tapper also asked Biden if he thought it would be important for the nation for Trump as the outgoing president to attend the inauguration ceremony of his successor, as presidents always do but as many predict Trump will not.

Biden said it had little to do with his own feelings but that he thought it was important in relation to the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next and also for how the US is perceived around the world.

“It is totally his decision,” Biden said. “It is of no personal consequence to me, but I think it is to the country.” He further lamented Trump’s refusal to concede, saying, “These kinds of things happen in tin-horn dictatorships.”

The president-elect remained mostly civil when discussing the “chaos” of his predecessor Trump, with the exception of several pointed comments. He said the Biden-Harris administration would not be using its power to pardon family members and other associates, as Trump is reportedly exploring.

“You are not going to see in our administration that kind of approach to pardons, nor are you going to see in our administration an approach to making policy by tweets,” he said.

Biden said he did not personally have any plans to prosecute Trump for crimes committed in office and that the justice department officials he appoints will work independently. He added that while Trump and his allies seemed to be publicly downplaying or outright denying Biden’s win, some senators had privately called the president-elect to congratulate him.

Harris said the US would be lucky to have Biden take over as president, especially after four years of Trump, saying “there could not be a more extreme exercise in stark contrast between the current occupant of the White House and the next occupant of the White House”.

“The American people deserve in their president to have someone who is truly patriotic who loves our country,” Harris said. “Who puts the people of the country first, not themselves.”