Transition underway, Biden taps 13 health experts for COVID response

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris listen during a meeting with Biden’s COVID-19 advisory council, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (Carolyn Kaster/AP photo via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President-elect Joe Biden announced a team of 13 health experts on Monday to advise him on combating coronavirus, taking action on his promise to lead the country’s pandemic response guided by science.

With experts warning that winter will bring the worst season of infections so far, Covid-19 cases are on the rise in 40 states. America has seen close to 10 million total reported infections of the virus, which has killed nearly 238,000 here. The president-elect said the Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board will guide him in the battle against the deadly pandemic that continues to grip the nation.

“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,” Biden said in a statement.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, appointed under the Obama administration then ousted when President Donald Trump took office, will be one of three co-chairs heading the board.

Murthy is joined by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler, appointed by President George H.W. Bush then reappointed in the Clinton administration — and now at the University of California San Francisco — and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University associate professor of medicine and epidemiology.

Dr. Rick Bright is also among those selected, having been ousted by Trump earlier this year after criticizing the administration’s pandemic response. He had headed Biomedical Advanced Research and Development, or BARDA, a cutting-edge government research agency.

In a whistleblower complaint, Bright said he resisted political pressure to promote the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, touted by Trump, as a Covid-19 treatment.

Dr. Eric Goosby, President Barack Obama’s global AIDS coordinator, and Dr. Atul Gawande, a Clinton administration senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services, also join the board.

Biden promised in his victory speech that he will make getting coronavirus under control his top priority after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

“I want everyone to know on day one, we’re going to put our plan to control this virus into action. We can’t save any of the lives lost — any of those that have been lost — but we can save a lot of lives in the months ahead,” the president-elect said Friday.

The United States hit new record highs of confirmed cases of coronavirus as the election handing Biden the White House played out last week. More than 91,000 new cases were reported Wednesday, and deaths have risen by 15% in recent weeks, according to data from John Hopkins University.

Pharmaceutical heavyweight Pfizer announced Monday that a vaccine in development is proving to be 90% effective at protecting against Covid-19.

Calling it “great news,” Biden also warned a widely available vaccine is still “many more months” out, urging Americans to rely on preventative health measures.

“Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year,” he said in a statement. “Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.”

Biden’s team said Monday that the advisory board will consult with state and local officials to develop public health and economic strategies. Reopening schools and businesses safely and tackling the higher rate of infection in communities of color will be central issues, the transition team said.