Health and Science

President-elect Joe Biden announces Covid task force

Key Points
  • President-elect Joe Biden announced the members of his coronavirus task force.
  • The announcement, which comes before Biden has named any of his senior White House staff, signals how high of a priority the pandemic response is to him.
  • Average daily new cases are rising by at least 5% in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data. 
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds up a face mask while giving remarks about the Affordable Care Act and COVID-19 after attending a virtual coronavirus briefing with medical experts at The Queen theater on October 28, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the members of his coronavirus task force, who will be charged with crafting a plan to curb the spread of Covid-19 as it reaches record-high levels.

The task force will be co-chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University, according to the announcement.

Other task force members include Dr. Atul Gawande, a professor of surgery and health policy at Harvard, and Dr. Rick Bright, the vaccine expert and whistleblower who resigned his post with the Trump administration last month.

The group will consult with state and local leaders to help steer the federal response once Biden takes office. 

Rounding out the task force is:

  • Dr. Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations
  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the Department of Bioethics at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health
  • Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine
  • Dr. Julie Morita, former health commissioner for the City of Chicago for nearly two decades
  • Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota
  • Loyce Pace, executive director and president of Global Health Council
  • Dr. Robert Rodriguez, who has researched the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of frontline workers
  • Dr. Eric Goosby, an expert on infectious diseases.

"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 the announcement. "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 announcement was made the same day as Pfizer and BioNTech announced their coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19.

The announcement, which comes before the president-elect has named any of his senior White House staff or Cabinet appointments, signals how high of a priority the pandemic response is to Biden.

Biden will not be sworn into office until Jan. 20, when epidemiologists and medical experts say the country could be in a dire situation with the pandemic if current trends continue. On the day NBC News projected Biden would win the election, the U.S. reported its third-straight record spike in daily new coronavirus cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Average daily new cases are rising by at least 5% in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data. 

Dr. Leana Wen, the former Baltimore health commissioner, said Biden will have his work cut out for him when he assumes office in January. She added, though, that he can begin encouraging compliance with public health measures even before he officially takes office.

"His work needs to begin right now. He needs to begin communicating the urgency of actions with the American people," she said in a phone interview. "His biggest challenge is going to be getting people to follow his recommendations. He can have the best policies and even the best way to implement his policies, but unless you can win the hearts and minds of the American people, it's not going to make a difference."

Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, said if the country continues on its current path, the U.S. could have more than half a million Covid-19 deaths before Biden takes office.

"It's going to get much worse this winter," she said. "We are surging all across the country. There are firestorms of Covid-19 that we're seeing in virtually every part of the country, and it is getting worse by the day."

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, echoed Wen's concerns about the months ahead.

"The worst days of the pandemic are almost certainly still ahead of us," she said. "This virus is now spread across the entire United States. When the first surge came, it was localized to the Northeast in New England, New York, New Jersey. In the second wave, it was the South and Southwest. But now we're seeing it literally takeover hospitals across the country."

She added that a Biden presidency gives her hope of a nationally coordinated response to the pandemic, but until Jan. 20, "it's like we're on our own."

Ranney added that several of her "colleagues and friends" will serve on Biden's coronavirus task force and will help him "hit the ground running on day one" when he takes office.

"But the trouble is, even with hitting the ground running on day one, it's going to take two months to manufacture adequate PPE," she said. "Even if on day one, he says, 'I'm going to create a mask mandate,' it's going to take a while to disseminate that and to get the messaging out."

—CNBC's Sara Salinas contributed to this report.

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