President-elect Joe Biden named the 13 members of his coronavirus task force yesterday, at least in an official sense, since several people on the team have already been advising him and his campaign for months. As the medical news site STAT notes, they're a "who's-who of former government health officials, academics, and major figures in medicine." And there isn't a single cable news commentator among them. OK, maybe one, since one of the members is Dr. Atul Gawande, the surgeon who writes for the New Yorker and is sometimes interviewed on TV, but he's also a professor at Harvard Med School and at Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health, so we won't hold television against him.

The three co-chairs of the task force will be Vivek Murthy, Barack Obama's surgeon general; David Kessler, the former director of the Food and Drug Administration under George HW Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor of public health at Yale. And if you want just one big difference from the Trump Team's approach (apart from the overall focus on taking science seriously), it's Nunez-Smith's inclusion at the top of the task force. As the Washington Post points out, the public health community is very jazzed Nunez-Smith is in a leadership role because her

research focuses on promoting health and health-care equity in marginalized populations, according to her Yale biography. She has also studied discrimination that patients endure in the health-care system — expertise that many said was welcome in an epidemic that is disproportionately affecting people of color.

By contrast, there's a hell of a good case to be made — and it's already been made, very persuasively, by Adam Serwer — that once it became clear that people of color were dying and getting sick in far greater numbers than whites, the pandemic ceased to be quite so much a priority for Team Trump.

The other two leaders of the team have been among Biden's top advisers on the pandemic. You might also recall that Murthy's nomination was held up by Senate Republicans for a year, because he'd argued that gun violence should be treated as a public health issue. WaPo notes his academic work focused on "vaccine development and the participation of women and minorities in clinical trials," and as surgeon general, he took the lead in pushing for greater recognition of drug and alcohol addiction as a matter of public health.

Kessler was a hero of the Tobacco Wars in the 1990s, pushing for the power for the FDA to regulate cigarettes. While his efforts were blocked by the Supreme Court, Congress went right ahead and passed a law during the George W. Bush years placing smokes under the FDA's purview, so there.

Biden made the fight to control the virus a central part of his campaign, and has pledged to keep that his top priority once he's in office, arguing that reviving the economy, reopening schools, and otherwise returning to a semblance of normality all depend on controlling the pandemic. After a meeting in Delaware with the new panel yesterday, Biden again emphasized that public health shouldn't be as politicized as it's become:

It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. [...] It doesn't matter your party, your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months.

Not Democratic or Republican lives — American lives.

The appeal probably won't win over the most hardcore science deniers, who keep insisting the pandemic is no big deal even as it has gotten much worse in recent weeks, and even as it strikes people they know. We can think of a certain lame duck "president" and his devoted followers, for example. Biden is calling for a national mask mandate, which some Republican governors (and courts) may still resist. The worsening third spike of cases and Trump's departure may nudge others to follow the lead of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who yesterday imposed a mask mandate and strict limits on public gatherings.

Unlike Trump's mostly hands-off approach to the pandemic, which left most of the work up to state governors — to say nothing of Trump's frequent statements and behavior undermining his own coronavirus team's recommendations — Biden will pursue a true national strategy for testing, contact tracing, and making sure resources like personal protective equipment get to hospitals where they're most needed. Biden's team will also be responsible for planning for the distribution of vaccines, which despite yesterday's good news on vaccine effectiveness are still months away from being widely available. And he'll for damn sure use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of vials, needles, tests, and the other materiel needed to build a national response to the virus.

Finally, nearly a year has passed since the pandemic first became a serious threat in the US. And wouldn't it be nice if emergency pandemic supply funding didn't go to random telemarketers or 'arms contractors'?

[STAT / WaPo / Atlantic / NYT / ABC News]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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