WASHINGTON - US President-elect Joe Biden has selected two former Obama administration officials for senior roles to help fight COVID-19, including the appointment of Jeff Zients as White House coronavirus coordinator, Politico reported on Thursday.
Biden adviser Vivek Murthy will return to his role as Surgeon General but with a broader portfolio as the pandemic rages through the country, Politico said, citing two people familiar with the decision.
Dealing with the virus that has killed more than 274,000 Americans as well as the economic fallout from the crisis is one of Biden's top priorities once he takes office on Jan. 20.
Politico also said Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, will play a key role in the incoming administration's pandemic response, focused on disparities.
Current White House coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci, the top US government infectious diseases expert, was scheduled to have his first substantive talks with the new administration on Thursday.
Fauci told media he expected to have a comprehensive discussion with members of Biden's team working to establish priorities and ensure a smooth transition on Inauguration Day.
He said that although he had spoken with both Zients and Biden's White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain in the past, this would be his first "substantive discussions" with the Biden team.
"I'm looking forward to it. It likely will be the first of a series of normal type of transition undertaking," Fauci told MSNBC. A Biden transition official confirmed the meeting.
Fauci told CBS he wished the process had begun sooner. The administration of outgoing President Donald Trump only gave the green light for the transition to begin on Nov. 23.
Trump, a Republican, is contesting the Nov. 3 election, alleging electoral fraud but offering no evidence. Numerous legal challenges being pursued around the country have failed to bear fruit, most recently on Thursday when Wisconsin's Supreme Court declined to take up a case filed against election officials in the battleground state.
As director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has been the most high-profile member of the White House task force since the pandemic began, often disagreeing with Trump on how to combat the virus.
Fauci told MSNBC he expected to stay on in his current role under the Biden administration.
U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have surged past 2,000 for two days in a row as the most dangerous season of the year approaches. Nearly 200,000 new U.S. cases were reported on Wednesday, with hospitalizations approaching 100,000 patients.
With Pfizer's vaccine already approved by regulatory authorities in Britain, hopes of a respite are resting on the start of widespread vaccinations as early as this month.
Zients, a wealthy businessman who has moved between the public sector and corporate America, will oversee the mammoth and unprecedented operation to distribute hundreds of millions of doses of the new vaccine in the United States, coordinating efforts across multiple federal agencies.
In recent weeks, Zients has served as a pandemic liaison of sorts with governors and state officials, frequently joining calls to share data and discuss concerns, according to two sources familiar with the calls.
Biden announced that Brian Deese, who helped lead then-President Barack Obama's efforts to bail out the automotive industry during the 2009 financial crisis, will head the National Economic Council.
"I'm asking Brian Deese to do this job because he's someone who looks at hard problems and finds solutions that help make life better for American families," Biden said in a video posted by his transition team. "He'll be the first who is a true expert on climate policy."