US President-elect Joe Biden announced on Monday the line-up of his coronavirus task force, which will be led jointly by experts including former president Barack Obama’s surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy , as Biden has made his response to surging infections the first order of business for his administration.
Health care equity advocate Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith, who is a Yale University professor of internal medicine and public health, and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr David Kessler, who was appointed by former president George HW Bush, were also named as co-chairs.
The task force line-up announcement broke shortly before news that another cabinet member of President Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19, as a new outbreak of the illness in the administration, which has refused to concede to Biden, appears to be tied to an election night party at the White House. Longtime Trump ally and campaign aide David Bossie has also contracted the disease, according to multiple US news outlets.
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Today, I have named a COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board, comprised of distinguished public health experts, to help our transition team translate the Biden-Harris COVID-19 plan into a blueprint we can put into place as soon as @KamalaHarris and I are sworn into office.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 9, 2020
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, whose diagnosis was first reported by ABC on Monday, attended the November 3 party, where, according to media reports, few attendees wore masks. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who tested positive last week, also attended the event. There is no confirmation that the officials contracted the illness at the White House.
Bossie had been coordinating events in states where vote counts were close as part of the Trump campaign’s legal fight to contest the election, National Public Radio reported, adding that he had traveled to the battleground state of Arizona last week for one such event.
Covid-19 infections first spiked in the White House last month, when Trump himself was diagnosed and airlifted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The president left the hospital three days later after a being treated with an experimental antibody therapy developed by American biotechnology company Regeneron and other therapies.
In addition to Meadows, four others in Trump’s orbit including campaign aide Nick Trainer subsequently tested positive last week, according to CNN, which also reported that Carson was seen without a mask at a Trump campaign rally in Michigan on October 30.
Biden’s task force also includes Dr Rick Bright, an immunologist and virologist, who opposed the use of malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus, a treatment that was repeatedly promoted by Trump despite little scientific evidence of their efficacy.
Biden said repeatedly in an address following his first meeting with the task force that he would listen to scientists, and urged Americans to stop treating masks as a political issue.
“The challenge before us right now is still immense and growing,” the president-elect said. “And although we are not in office yet, I’m just laying out what we expect to do, and hope can be done – some of it – between now and the time we’re sworn in.”
“It’s time to end the politicisation of basic, responsible public health steps, like mask wearing and social distancing,” Biden said. “We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives – American lives.”
Bright was removed in April from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the agency charged with developing a vaccine against coronavirus, and has claimed that his break with Trump on the malaria drugs led to his transfer to a lower-level position at the US National Institutes of Health.
Trump’s own coronavirus task force has been largely inactive as a third wave of coronavirus infections, totalling more than 100,000 a day for nearly a week, begin to overwhelm emergency rooms, particularly throughout the country’s Midwestern states.
As of Monday morning, more than 10,060,700 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 238,000 have died, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
Among White House officials and those who have attended events there, in particular the September 26 introduction ceremony for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett – where some 180 invitees sat close together for an extended period, many without masks – have underscored criticism over how the administration is managing the pandemic.
Additional reporting by Jacob Fromer
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