Biden picks Ashish Jha as new Covid-19 czar

A graduate of Columbia University, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard University School of Public Health, Jha was appointed dean at Brown in March 2020. He was elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine in 2013.

“Ashish will bring to President Biden and our nation what he has brought — and will bring back — to Brown: an unrivaled commitment to improving public health equitably, effectively, creatively, with heart and a commitment to science,” Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said in a statement.

Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, praised the selection of Jha, noting the importance of having a public health communicator in the role at this stage of the pandemic.

“His appointment is really confirmation that the White House understands that this is not over,” Becker said. “Putting a public health person in that role speaks volumes to me. They get it.”

Two years since the beginning of the pandemic, Biden’s statement emphasized “safely moving back to more normal routines” by utilizing testing, treatments and vaccines, noting “our work in combatting COVID is far from done.” In the past month, the CDC loosened its mask guidance and the White House scrapped its mandate. And at last month’s State of the Union address — where most attendees, including the president, were maskless — Biden emphasized that Covid-19 “need no longer control our lives.”

Biden also heaped praise on Zients, who had no public health experience before joining the Biden administration and leading its vaccination campaign. Zients was one of the most recognizable figures of the Biden administration’s pandemic response, hosting weekly, live-streamed press briefings with public health officials. Under his leadership, the U.S. undertook massive vaccination and testing initiatives both domestically and internationally. But his hardline approach to maintaining pandemic restrictions led to complaints from some in the business community, including the airline industry.

“I called on Jeff Zients to lead my Administration’s COVID-19 response because there is no one better at delivering results than Jeff,” Biden said. “Jeff spent the last 14 months working tirelessly to help combat COVID. He is a man of service and an expert manager. I will miss his counsel and I’m grateful for his service.”

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