In his acceptance speech last Saturday, President-elect Joe Biden said getting the pandemic "under control" is his and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's number one priority. Their goals include increased testing, mask mandates in every state, and a plan for distributing a future vaccine. Meanwhile, the number of cases in our area is on the rise, prompting officials to enact new restrictions, as city parents await the possibility of a schools shutdown.

Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden's new Coronavirus Task Force and an epidemiologist at New York University, spoke to WNYC's Sean Carlson on All Things Considered on Thursday.

The current administration has largely left testing and math mandates and getting adequate supplies of PPE up to the states themselves. What can we expect from a national strategy like the president-elect is working on that maybe a state by state approach doesn't? And what are the first few things we need to do to get a handle on this?

Well, I think the number one thing we can do right now that we should have done yesterday, that we should have done months ago, is for every single American to take personal responsibility for wearing a mask. We are going to be trying to de-politicize mask wearing as much as possible, which will probably include some marketing campaigns, enlisting experts in behavioral change and psychology. But it's really unfortunate that this has happened. It's sort of as if toilet paper had been politicized. This is not a political symbol, and it's something that's highly effective and has minimal economic impact.

How can you knit together a national strategy for beating this thing when we've had states kind of going out on their own for 9 months now?

Well, honestly, I think a lot of the state and local health departments would welcome some more guidance and resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government. I think they've been treading water, drowning for the for the last several months and really need that assistance.

It is important to remember that we are a federalist system, however, and that much of the action does happen at the state and local health department level. The CDC is by and large a technical scientific organization that develops guidelines, makes recommendations. So while the CDC is a very important player in all of this, so too are the local players.

Listen to Sean Carlson speak with Dr. Celine Gounder on All Things Considered:

You mentioned, for a variety of complicated reasons, people of color have suffered much higher rates of illness and death from the coronavirus. So what can the incoming administration do to reduce those disparities?

Well, I think we have to understand why. This is not a genetic predisposition. I think we need to be very clear about that. This is really about structural problems that put certain people at risk, whether it's because they're in occupations where they may be more heavily exposed. They're in occupations where the job does not provide health insurance.

They are in a situation where they do not have paid sick leave or paid family leave. And while you can't solve all of them today, we can certainly make sure that they are among the priority groups to have access to some of the new therapeutics and vaccines that are coming down the pipeline.

And as we mentioned, cases are on the rise in New York and New Jersey. New York State has ordered a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants and gyms that starts on Friday. Similar rules went into effect in New Jersey on Thursday. How much do you think this will really help?

Honestly, this 10 p.m. curfew, or whatever you want to call it, I think is rather nonsensical. The coronavirus really doesn't care if you're having a beer at 10:30 p.m., or you're having lunch at noon. And so I think what we really need to be talking about is close indoor dining entirely, indoor bars, gyms, nail salons; all of those kinds of places. And, as part of that, we need to be addressing the needs of small business owners and their employees.

So this is very hard on them from an economic perspective. And we need to be supporting them through that so that they're not bearing the brunt of the financial burden of these closures.

You have a pretty active Twitter account. And you're pretty critical of the idea that New York City might keep bars and restaurants open but close public schools if the infection rate hits 3%. Why?

I think, unfortunately, what's happening is you're seeing business interests and union interests having more sway politically than the public health and science here and I think if we consider schools to be an essential service, and if we want to keep schools open, it means that we're going to have to do everything possible to keep community transmission suppressed. And that's not what we're seeing in terms of policies right now.

You and many other scientists, including a lot of public health officials in our area, have said that indoor private gatherings are major spreaders of the coronavirus. We have Thanksgiving coming up; there's the holiday season gearing up. How do you take that on right now?

It is going to be challenging. I think the safest thing is that you not celebrate in person with anybody who's outside of your household bubble, and that includes college students returning home for the holidays. And that if you really, absolutely have to have an in-person Thanksgiving wear masks as much as possible. Do it outdoors, maintain that six feet social distancing. And when you are indoors, keep all of your windows and doors open.

Another member of the task force recently said shutting down small- and medium-sized businesses across the country for four to six weeks would help get these infections under control. Is this something the team is looking at, and what would the consequences of that be for business owners?

I think you're quoting Michael Osterholm, and with all due respect to Dr. Osterholm, that is not the view of the majority of those of us who are on the advisory board. The majority of us would say the words "lockdown" and "shutdown" are really not good words to use here because we don't think of this as an on or off light switch, so to speak; we think about this as a dimmer switch as a dial that you turn up and down.

So, for example, here in New York as we're seeing cases creep up towards that 3% mark, dialing it down means closing restaurants, bars and gyms and the like, not shutting everything down. And so it's really about being judicious about what is truly necessary. And localizing that to the areas where it's most necessary.