President-elect Joe Biden has appointed two close allies to head up his incoming administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed almost 275,000 Americans thus far, Politico reported on Thursday.
Jeff Zients, a former Obama administration official who serves as a co-chair of Biden’s transition, will be the incoming administration’s COVID-19 coordinator.
Vivek Murthy, the former Obama administration surgeon general, will return to that role for Biden’s administration. According to Politico, this time Murthy’s appointment as surgeon general will involve a broader portfolio that includes acting as the top medical expert and public face of the effort.
Additionally, Biden COVID-19 advisory board co-chair Marcella Nunez-Smith will focus on health disparities as part of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response.
Politico reported that Biden’s team will announce these and other health care personnel announcements as soon as this weekend.
Zients will oversee a surge in testing, a mobilization of economic aid and the distribution of a vaccine as some of his top priorities.
“He’s essentially playing that role with the transition now,” one source close to Biden told Politico. “Jeff isn’t a health care guru, and he’s the first to say that, but he’s a manager and a trusted player without an agenda other than outcomes. He has all the attributes you need to manage this across the board — a rare skill set in Washington.”
Zients will team up with health experts such as Murthy, whose return to his role as surgeon general will have more enhanced responsibilities compared to his term in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017.
“It will be like an amplified, [Surgeon General] on steroids plus,” a source close to Biden told Politico, adding that Murthy will have a “broader portfolio” that addresses the COVID-19 pandemic crisis as well as more systemic health care issues.
On Thursday, White House COVID-19 expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has largely been sidelined by the Trump administration, told NBC News that he had a “very productive Zoom meeting” with Biden’s team in the afternoon and said that they discussed “a variety of COVID-related topics.” Zients reportedly led the discussion for Biden’s team.
Later Thursday, Biden confirmed to CNN that he asked Fauci to be a chief medical adviser and part of his COVID-19 response team for his incoming administration.
“I asked him to stay on the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents, and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me as well, and be part of the Covid team,” Biden told CNN regarding his Thursday afternoon meeting with Fauci.