Biden says coronavirus will be first, second & third priority come Jan. 20

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President-elect Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic will be his "first priority, the second priority, and the third priority" once he takes over the White House next month.

Biden made the comments during an interview with the New York Times. Asked how he planned to persuade the public to change its behavior to curb the spread of the virus, Biden said he believes Americans adequately understand what is at stake.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks as he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduce nominee for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del.

"There’s a new sense of urgency on the part of the public at large," Biden said. "The American public is being made painfully aware of the extent and damage and incredibly high cost of failing to take the kind of measures we’ve been talking about."

Biden called the current rate of infection, "staggering" and acknowledged that the "damage and the death toll" is "going to be incredibly high" when he is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Biden’s words come as the U.S. heads into a holiday season of travel and family gatherings that threaten to fuel the deadly outbreak across the nation.

Despite warnings from public health officials to stay home, more than 1.19 million travelers passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints Wednesday – down by about 40% from a year ago, but the highest one-day total since the crisis took hold in mid-March.

The virus has taken more than 327,000 lives in the U.S., with more than 3,000 deaths per day repeatedly recorded over the past two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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