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November 12, 2020

Gawande, Murthy, and more. See who's on Biden's Covid-19 task force.

Daily Briefing

    President-elect Joe Biden's transition team on Monday unveiled members of Biden's Covid-19 task force and two new health care advisers, as Biden himself urged Americans to wear masks and discussed the potential impact of soon having an authorized vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

    Meet Biden's Covid-19 task force, health care advisors

    During a victory speech on Saturday, Biden said he'd take action to fight America's coronavirus epidemic on his first day in office. As part of his efforts to prepare, Biden said he would establish a coronavirus task force comprised of "leading scientists and experts" that would be responsible for crafting recommendations "built on a bedrock of science, constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern."

    For instance, Biden said the task force would work on turning his coronavirus response proposal into policies Biden's future administration could put into action once he takes office. That includes efforts to "mak[e] rapid testing widely available and [build] a corps of contact tracers who will track and curb this disease while we prioritize getting vaccinations first to the most at-risk populations," as well as readying "clear and detailed guidance and providing the necessary resources for small businesses, schools, and child-care centers to reopen and operate safely and effectively," Biden said.

    Biden added that the task force will reach out to state and local health officials to discuss what is needed to prevent the coronavirus's spread, safely reopen businesses and schools, and address the racial disparities of America's coronavirus epidemic.

    "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 issued Monday. "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."

    On Monday, Biden's transition team named the co-chairs and members who will serve on the task force. The three co-chairs of the task force are:

    • David Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner under the administrations of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton;
    • Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under former President Barack Obama's administration; and
    • Marcella Nunez-Smith, a physician, researcher, and professor at Yale University.

    The remaining members of the task force are:

    • Luciana Borio, a biodefense specialist who served as a former assistant FDA commissioner and on the National Security Council under the Obama and Trump administrations;
    • Rick Bright, former director of HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority under President Trump, who earlier this year filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that he was ousted by the Trump administration after raising concerns about the administration's coronavirus response;
    • Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist and former health policy advisor to the Obama administration;
    • Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a professor of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a former special adviser to HHS under Clinton's administration;
    • Celine Gounder, an assistant professor at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine who is a physician and medical journalist and has experience fighting tuberculosis and HIV outbreaks;
    • Julie Morita, former Chicago public health commissioner;
    • Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota who served as an advisor to HHS under former President George H.W. Bush's administration;
    • Loyce Pace, executive director of the Global Health Council;
    • Robert Rodriguez, an emergency medicine professor at the University of California-San Francisco; and
    • Eric Goosby, former director of the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

    According to Politico, the makeup of Biden's Covid-19 task force differs from the Trump administration's coronavirus task force. Politico reports that, "unlike the [current] White house coronavirus task force—which includes political and economic aides in addition to medical experts, and whose most prominent voices advocate for a full reopening despite the [coronavirus's] severity—the Biden team uniformly supports more stringent public health measures."

    Biden's transition team on Monday also unveiled two new advisors who will help guide Biden's preparations for his administration's coronavirus response, though they will not serve on the Covid-19 task force. Those advisors are:

    • Beth Cameron, who had served as the director of the former White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense—an office that the Trump administration dissolved in 2018; and
    • Rebecca Katz, a global health security professor at Georgetown University.

    Biden urges Americans to wear masks, discusses potential impact of a coronavirus vaccine

    In addition, Biden during a speech on Monday called on Americans to wear masks in the coming months, saying it could save "tens of thousands of lives" by helping to curb the country's surging coronavirus epidemic.

    "It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. 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. Not Democratic or Republican lives—American lives," Biden said.

    Biden also discussed the potential impacts of possibly soon having an authorized vaccine against the novel coronavirus in the United States, after Pfizer earlier on Monday announced that early clinical trial data suggests its vaccine candidate is 90% in preventing Covid-19.

    Biden called Pfizer's announcement "excellent news," but he warned that America still is "facing a very dark winter" when it comes to the country's coronavirus epidemic. He noted, "It's clear that this vaccine, even if approved, will not be widely available for many months yet to come." Meanwhile, "[t]he challenge before us right now is still immense and growing, and so is the need for bold action to fight this [epidemic]," Biden said.

    Biden added that Americans need to take precautions such as mask wearing to help curb the virus's spread and help get the country "back to normal as fast as possible." He said, "Please, I implore you, wear a mask" (Facher, STAT News, 11/9; Sun, Washington Post, 5/10/18; Shear, New York Times, 11/9; Weissert et al., Associated Press, 11/9; Ollstein/Forgey, Politico, 11/9).

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