Biden Issues 3-Point COVID-19 Plan; Introduces Top Health Team Members

President-elect Joe Biden formally announced several members of his healthcare team on Tuesday, calling them “a team of world-class experts at the top of their field.”

“They’re going to be ready on Day One to spare not a single effort to get the pandemic under control, so we can get back to work, get back to our lives, and get back to our loved ones,” Biden said at a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware. “They’ll lead the COVID-19 response across the government to accelerate testing, fix our supply chain, and distribute the vaccine.”

Before introducing his team — all of whom had already been identified publicly — Biden laid out a three-point plan for the first 100 days of his administration to help get the virus under control.

  • A 100-day masking effort. “I’m asking everyone for the first 100 days of my administration to wear a mask,” he said, adding that he will sign an executive order on day one to “require masks where I can under law — like federal buildings and during interstate travel on planes, trains, and buses, and I will be working with governors and mayors to do the same in their states and their cities …. But it goes beyond government action. I’m going to speak directly to the American people: ‘We need your help. Wear a mask for just 100 days, to help yourself, your family, and your community … It’s not a political statement; it’s a patriotic act.'”
  • 100 million vaccinations in 100 days. “This team will help get at least 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days, and we’ll follow the guidance of science to get vaccines to those most at risk,” said Biden. “That includes healthcare professionals, people in long-term care, and as soon as possible, it will include educators.” Biden called vaccine distribution “one of the hardest, most costly operational challenges in our nation’s history,” and he called on Congress to fully fund it. “Without urgent action by this Congress this month to put sufficient resources into vaccine distribution and manufacturing — which a bipartisan group is working on — there’s a real chance that after an early round of vaccinations, the effort will slow and stall,” he said.
  • Get the majority of schools open by the end of the first 100 days. “If Congress provides the funding we need to protect students, educators, and staff; if states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be opened by the end of my first 100 days … It’s not a secret how we do it.”

Biden then introduced the members of his healthcare team, which included:

Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Becerra is currently California’s attorney general. Before that, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993 and stayed for over 2 decades.

As California’s attorney general, in April 2018, Becerra and leaders in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia filed the California v. Texas lawsuit that aimed to protect the Affordable Care Act, in response to the suit brought by Texas and 16 other states that sought to torpedo the landmark bill. Becerra was also among 23 state attorneys general who filed an amicus brief last year in a case seeking to overturn a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks.

Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, as surgeon general. Murthy, 43, held the post under President Obama from December 2014 to April 2017. Biden has also chosen him to co-chair a coronavirus advisory board.

In his second rotation as surgeon general, Murthy’s previous efforts in promoting vaccine acceptance will come in handy. Achieving adequate protection for the public would require three-fourths of the population to be vaccinated, which Murthy told NPR is “not going to be easy.” Yet he described the goal of herd immunity as “ambitious but achievable” — reaching it will largely depend on the vaccine supply and gaining the public’s trust, he said.

Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, as director of the CDC. Walensky is chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She has been heavily involved in the state’s COVID-19 response.

As a researcher, Walensky has focused on the cost-effectiveness of HIV testing, care, and prevention, according to her Harvard biography. She also “has been influential in advancing international health policy towards the promotion of HIV treatment as prevention and the adoption of other effective and efficient strategies of HIV care.” She also chairs the advisory council for the NIH’s Office of AIDS Research.

“I began my medical career at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I’ve spent my life ever since working to research, treat, and combat infectious diseases,” Walensky tweeted Monday. “I’m honored to be called to lead the brilliant team at the CDC. We are ready to combat this virus with science and facts.”

Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, as COVID-19 Equity Task Force chair. Nunez-Smith is an associate professor of medicine, public health, and management at the Yale University School of Medicine, and is founding director of Yale’s Equity Research and Innovation Center.

Nunez-Smith’s research focuses on promoting health and healthcare equity for marginalized populations, according to her Yale biography. She has worked to support healthcare workforce diversity and develop patient-reported healthcare quality measures. Nunez-Smith’s areas of interest include the effects of social and structural determinants of health and systemic influences contributing to health disparities.

Anthony Fauci, MD, as chief medical adviser on COVID-19 and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Fauci, who is currently a member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, has been outspoken during the pandemic, at one time earning President Trump’s wrath by disagreeing with Trump’s remark that 99% of coronavirus cases were “totally harmless.”

“Dr. Fauci has been of the most trusted figures in the country throughout the pandemic and for decades prior, and will remain an essential voice both in informing the public about health risks and safety measures and in helping the scientific community, the Biden-Harris administration, and local officials overcome the COVID-19 pandemic,” Biden said in an email announcing his healthcare team. “Dr. Fauci has the experience needed to get things done.”

Jeff Zients as coordinator of the COVID-19 response and counselor to the president. Zients, who served as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, is well known for fixing the problems involved in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare.gov website. He is also a businessman who worked in various roles at the Advisory Board Company and the Corporate Executive Board before helping to take both companies public and making millions in the process.

“Zients will advise my team on the implementation of the federal government’s COVID response, including managing safe and equitable vaccine distribution, the pandemic supply chain, and coordination across federal agencies and state and local governments,” Biden said in the email. “I’m excited to tap him for this essential role.”

Biden has yet to announce his picks for several important healthcare positions, including FDA commissioner and administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

  • author['full_name']

    Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s Washington coverage, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, healthcare trade associations, and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience covering health policy. Follow