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As coronavirus infection rates are up in more than 40 states, and the US nears 10 million total cases, President-elect Joe Biden's transition team on Monday announced his new COVID-19 advisory board, made up of physicians and public health experts, including Rick Bright, a whistleblower who filed a complaint alleging the Trump administration ignored his early warnings about the pandemic.
Bright, a virologist with 25 years of experience in addressing pandemics, claimed earlier this year that he had been dismissed as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after he voiced concerns over Trump's support of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment.
He testified before Congress in May that "lives were endangered and lives were lost" when the administration ignored his early, repeated concerns over the country's critical shortage of personal protective equipment, including N95 respirators.
During his congressional testimony, Bright warned that the US was likely to face its "darkest winter in modern history” without a national coordinated response to the pandemic.
Biden's 13-member coronavirus advisory board includes Vivek H. Murthy, who served as surgeon general in Barack Obama's administration, and David Kessler, who was the Food and Drug Administration commissioner under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate dean at the Yale School of Medicine, whose work focuses on promoting healthcare for structurally marginalized populations, is a cochair along with Murthy and Kessler.
"Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts," Biden said in a statement. "The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations."
Throughout his campaign, Biden has indicated how seriously he intends to focus on handling the coronavirus pandemic from the outset of his presidency, in contrast to Trump's cavalier attitude to the deadly virus that has killed more than 237,000 Americans.
Trump's COVID task force — that stopped briefing the public for weeks — was led by Vice President Mike Pence, who has no public health experience. Trump constantly disregarded and undermined warnings and advice from the nation's top scientists, including Deborah Birx and the nation's top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, on how to handle the pandemic and recklessly suggested unproven treatments for the virus. In late October, Fauci stated that Trump had not attended a coronavirus task force meeting himself in "several months."
At his rallies — packed with thousands of supporters, many maskless — Trump discredited Fauci, even threatening to fire him as they clashed for months over the government's response to the pandemic.
Biden will be inheriting an unprecedented health crisis when he is sworn in. He will have to contend with convincing more than 70 million Americans who voted for Trump to accept his aggressive approach to combatting the pandemic as well as grapple with passing COVID relief funding through a deeply divided Congress and possibly a Republican-controlled Senate. However, researchers and doctors are relieved about a Biden presidency that will end the federal government's four-year war with science.
Biden has also released a seven-point plan to beat COVID that focuses on ramping up testing and contact tracing and investing $25 billion in a vaccine manufacturing and distribution plan that promises to get it to "every America, cost-free."
On Monday, Pfizer announced that its coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective, according to early data. In a statement, Biden praised the breakthrough with cautious optimism, warning that it would be "many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country."
He stressed the continued importance of wearing masks and social distancing, again a stark contrast to Trump's lax approach to these basic measures that led to a White House outbreak which infected the president himself, first lady Melania Trump, and several aides. Most recently, Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows tested positive for the virus just days after he said the Trump administration was "not going to control the pandemic."