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In 'Critical Time,' Biden Introduces Health Team That Would Lead COVID-19 Response

President-elect Joe Biden is pushing a mask mandate for his first 100 days. "It's the easiest thing you can do to reduce COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths."
President-elect Joe Biden is pushing a mask mandate for his first 100 days. "It's the easiest thing you can do to reduce COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths."

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced the team he has selected to lead the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, as cases of the virus continue to spike throughout the country.

"I'm very proud to be announcing our health care and COVID team at a critical time," Biden said during remarks in Wilmington, Del. "It's near the end of one of the toughest years we've faced as a nation, more than 285,000 dead Americans because of COVID-19 and counting."

Biden again said he plans on asking Americans to "mask up" for the first 100 days of his administration.

"This goes beyond government action, and so, as a new president, I'm going to speak directly to the American people," he said. "We need your help. Wear a mask for just 100 days. It's the easiest thing you can do to reduce COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Help yourself, your family and your community."

He added he will sign an order on his first day in office to require mask-wearing where he can under the law, like federal buildings.

The president-elect once again called on Americans to view mask-wearing not as a "political statement" but as a "patriotic act."

Mask-wearing represents one of three objectives Biden laid out in his speech, along with setting a goal of 100 million vaccine shots in the administration's first 100 days and opening a majority of schools by the end of that time frame, a feat that he says will require more action by Congress.

Biden said the plan was developed with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will serve as Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19 and will maintain his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci, who gave remarks by video, said that the plan is bold but doable and "essential to help the public avoid unnecessary risks, to help us save lives, reopen schools and businesses and to eventually beat the pandemic."

Biden first announced key members of his health team on Monday, including his nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services Department.

If confirmed, Becerra, like many of Biden's nominees, would make history. He would be the first Latino to serve as head of the department. A former congressman, Becerra has been a fierce advocate of the Affordable Care Act and has led legal fights against President Trump's efforts to dismantle it. His post requires Senate confirmation.

Biden has also selected Jeff Zients, a veteran of the Obama administration, to be the White House coordinator of the coronavirus response.

Biden will nominate Dr. Vivek Murthy, a key coronavirus adviser to the president-elect, as surgeon general. Murthy was surgeon general during the Obama administration.

"The very best policies, and even the best vaccines and treatments, will not heal our nation unless we also overcome the fear, anxiety, anger and distrust that so many Americans are feeling right now," Murthy said in his remarks.

He added that the pandemic has also highlighted various other ongoing public health challenges like addiction, mental health, chronic illness and racial health disparities.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, has been tapped to lead a new task force aimed at reducing disparities in response, care and treatment.

"I grew up on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a place where people too often die too young from preventable conditions," she said on Tuesday. "I learned there was a term for what we were: an 'underserved community,' marginalized by place and by race."

Nunez-Smith called it a "societal obligation" to ensure equitable access to testing, treatment and vaccines.

Biden will also nominate Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.