The news: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President–elect Kamala Harris have revealed the members of their covid-19 task force. Its 10 members are mostly former government health officials, top medical figures, and academics. The task force will have three cochairs: David Kessler, who ran the Food and Drug Administration under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama presidency; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.
Murthy and Kessler have both been involved in Biden’s pandemic preparations for months. Other members include Rick Bright, an immunologist and vaccine expert who was ousted from the Trump administration after filing a whistleblower complaint alleging that his coronavirus concerns were ignored, and Atul Gawande, a professor of surgery and health policy at Harvard University. In a statement released today, Biden said: “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. 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.”
What will the task force do? For now, its job will be to guide Biden’s policies and preparations as he plans to take office on January 20. The ultimate aim is to enact the policies Biden promised on the campaign trail—a seven-point plan that aims to fix testing and tracing, ramp up production of personal protective equipment, provide clear national guidance, and ensure the “effective, equitable” distribution of treatments and vaccines. He also plans to implement a national mask mandate, do more to shield older and higher-risk adults, and rebuild the institutions in charge of pandemic preparation and defense, to help ward off the next threat.
The significance: To say the task force has its work cut out is a huge understatement. The coronavirus crisis continues to escalate rapidly in the US. New cases topped 100,000 a day for the fifth day in a row on Sunday, as the total number of positive tests reached 10 million and the death toll passed 237,000. Biden has said that his number one priority as president will be taming the pandemic. His decision to appoint this task force as one of his first actions since declaring victory underlines the fact that it tops his agenda, contrasting sharply with the current lack of coordinated federal response.