The announcement of a task force filled with doctors and scientists came the same day the US surpassed 10 million coronavirus cases.
For President-elect Joe Biden, tackling the coronavirus pandemic that continues to spread at record-level highs across the country is a top priority. On Monday, he unveiled a coronavirus task force—which includes several respected public health experts and scientists—to advise him on the crisis during the transition.
“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”
The 13-member team will also coordinate and consult with state and local leaders on public health guidelines and resources to curb the rising number of cases, as well as guide Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in their response once they take office Jan. 20.
The announcement came the same day the United States marked another grim milestone in the pandemic, surpassing 10 million coronavirus cases. More than 238,000 Americans have died since the spring.
Public health experts expect those figures to continue rising rapidly because of the lack of a coordinated federal response from the Trump administration. On Saturday, the country documented an astounding 126,000 new coronavirus cases. In fact, the US has had an average of 103,800 new COVID cases a day over the past week—a 30% increase from the week before.
Biden’s task force draws a sharp contrast to the current Trump-appointed team, which includes Vice President Mike Pence—who is not a doctor—and Scott Atlas, an academic neuroradiologist with no experience with specializing infectious diseases. The White House Coronavirus Task Force Pence convened on Monday afternoon, though the last time they met, The Guardian reports, was Oct. 20.
Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden advisory board—made up of a wide range of doctors and scientists—is a clear indication the president-elect is taking a science-based approach to the virus. The three physicians who will serve as co-chairs, for example, are widely known and respected in their work.
A Task Force Packed With Experienced Public Health Experts
Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general in the Obama administration beginning in December 2014, is one of the three co-chairs. Before leaving that post in April 2017, he led public health countermeasures that effectively curbed the spread of the Zika and Ebola viruses.
Murthy was also an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2020 Democratic National Convention, he advocated for leaders to not let politics interfere with manufacturing and testing a safe coronavirus vaccine.
“What we’re missing is leadership,” Murthy said in his speech. “We need a leader who works with states to ensure that everyone who needs a test gets one, and gets results quickly. A leader who secures a safe, effective vaccine and distributes it quickly and fairly. A leader who inspires us to practice distancing and wear masks—not as a political statement but as a patriotic duty.”
Biden’s transition team also tapped Dr. David Kessler to be a part of the advisory board. Kessler is also not new to working with the White House: In 1990, the doctor was the commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under President George H.W. Bush and stayed in that position until near the end of President Bill Clinton’s first term. Kessler has served as the dean of the Yale School of Medicine since 1997.
The former commissioner has advocated for increased testing, and like Murthy, calls on the FDA to not let political discourse impede on the development of a safe and effective vaccine.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the third co-chair of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, is the associate dean of health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine, where she is also a professor of internal medicine, public health, and management. The physician has spent the last 20 years addressing health equity and providing patient medical care. In August, Dr. Nunez-Smith was appointed to the Biden-Harris campaign as an advisor on all coronavirus-related matters.
As an expert in health equity issues, Dr. Nunez-Smith has frequently pointed out the devastating impact the virus placed on people falling in the lower end of the nation’s wealth and racial disparities. “Whether we’re in Louisiana or in Chicago or here in New England, the same pattern repeats,” she said in a public health presentation in May. “Black and brown communities have been disproportionately hit [by the coronavirus], devastatingly so.”
Another member of Biden’s task force is Dr. Rick Bright, an immunologist and a vaccine expert who served until recently as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In May, Dr. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that the Trump administration ignored many of his early warnings and concerns about the novel coronavirus. The doctor also said he warned the HHS against manufacturing “potentially harmful drugs” to treat COVID-19, including hydroxychloroquine. In the complaint, Bright alleged that he was met with “indifference which then developed into hostility” by the administration, and as a result, was demoted to a lesser position at the NIH.
“Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost,” Dr. Bright said during his testimony before a US House subcommittee. “I believe by not telling America the truth or being totally transparent regardless of where the information was coming from, people were not as prepared as they could have been.”
Other members on the task force include:
- Dr. Atul Gawande, professor of surgery and health policy at Harvard University
- Dr. Luciana Borio, Senior Fellow – Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations
- Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Department Chair of Bioethics – the Clinical Center of NIH
- Dr. Celine Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor – NYU Grossman School of Medicine
- Dr. Julie Morita, former Health Commissioner – City of Chicago
- Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy – University of Minnesota
- Loyce Pace, Executive Director and President – Global Health Council
- Dr. Robert Rodriguez, a researcher on the mental health of frontline workers during the pandemic
- Dr. Eric Goosby, an infectious disease expert.
After meeting with his advisory board Monday, Biden called on Americans to take more precautions to slow the spread of the virus. “It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day,” the president-elect said. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months.”