President-elect Joe Biden called the lack of coordination with the Trump administration on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic the biggest threat facing his transition after meeting Monday with business and labor officials on steps to rebuild the economy.
"We're going into a very dark winter," Biden said at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. "Things are going to get tougher before they get easier."
The pandemic remains a growing concern with 11 million cases nationwide and nearly 250,000 deaths. Biden's transition to the White House has been complicated by President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the Nov. 3 election.
But Biden said the U.S. must determine how to prioritize who most needs a vaccine and coordinate distribution with the rest of the world.
"More people may die if we don't coordinate," Biden said. "It's a huge, huge, huge undertaking."
Two companies - Pfizer and Moderna - have announced promising results in developing vaccines, but it could take months for widespread distribution of a vaccine to tens of millions of people.
"Getting a vaccine and a vaccination are two different things," Biden said. "Everyone on our call today - on our Zoom today - agreed that the sooner we have access to the administration's distribution plan, the sooner this transition would smoothly move forward."
Biden said he wouldn't hesitate to get inoculated, but he wanted to set an example for the vaccine to be distributed to the most needy.
"I wouldn't hesitate to get the vaccine. But I also want to set an example," Biden said. "The only reason people question the vaccine now is Donald Trump."
Biden continued to advocate wearing masks and practicing social distancing until the vaccine is distributed. He commended Republican governors of North Dakota, Ohio and Utah who have supported wearing masks.
But Biden said health experts are warning him that Thanksgiving gatherings should bring no more than 10 people together in each home, preferably after a test and while wearing masks and keeping distant.
"I just want to make sure that we're able to be together next Thanksgiving, next Christmas," Biden said. "It's an international crisis."
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris brought business and labor leaders together online to discuss how to work together toward common goals from their different perspectives. Participants included the heads of General Motors, Microsoft, Target and Gap, along with the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"We all agreed on the urgent need for funding for states and localities to keep front-line workers and essential workers on the job," Biden said. "I wish you could have heard corporate leaders and the major labor leaders singing from the same hymnal here."
Much of Biden's speech was devoted to reiterating the proposals he made during the campaign. Biden proposed a series of measures to spur manufacturing, develop clean energy and support caregivers.
But each of those sweeping proposals depends on legislation from Congress, both to overturn trillions of dollars from Trump's tax cut and to authorize new spending.
"We're going to have a fair tax structure to make sure that people and corporations pay their fair share," Biden said.
Republicans have begun to question major new spending. Biden said he understood the reluctance of Republicans to work with him yet, but he would prefer to hit the ground running after his inauguration Jan. 20.
"My message is: I will work with you. I understand a lot of your reluctance because of the way the president operates," Biden said. "If it has to wait until Jan. 20 to become operational, that's a shame, but maybe that's the only way to get it done."
Harris noted that Black people and Latino people are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 and more likely to die. She said the goal in reopening the economy is to operate safely for front-line workers.
"We had an important conversation about how this pandemic has affected workers," Harris said. "The president-elect and I are hitting the ground running."
Biden repeated that he would treat all states equally, regardless of whether they supported his election. He argued that the election gave him and Congress a mandate to cooperate.
"I believe this is part of the mandate they gave us," Biden said. "They want us to cooperate. They want us to deliver results."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden: Transition hampered by lack of COVID-19 coordination with Trump