The coronavirus pandemic has crippled economies, shut down travel and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, transforming the world in ways that would have been unthinkable a year ago. The Biden administration’s first days were inevitably dominated by discussion of how his team would tackle the crisis, as the U.S. death toll continued its inexorable climb to a staggering milestone: 500,000 deaths.
Here’s a look at the key figures on President Biden’s Covid-19 response team, and some of their plans to try to stop the spread of the virus and regain some semblance of normalcy.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, chief medical adviser. The longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Fauci said he accepted the president’s offer to be his chief medical adviser “right on the spot.” Considered the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, he has been an adviser to every president since Ronald Reagan, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush for his work fighting H.I.V./AIDS. But he became a household name only after the start of the pandemic, when he emerged as a trusted authority in countless news briefings, interviews and public appearances.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Walensky, previously chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, replaced Dr. Robert R. Redfield. She has also focused on H.I.V./AIDS in her career, and has served as chair of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the National Institutes of Health, and as an adviser to the World Health Organization. Dr. Walensky has pledged to restore public trust in the agency and to provide accurate information “even when the news is bleak, or when the information may not be what those in the administration want to hear.”
Xavier Becerra, nominee for secretary of health and human services. Mr. Becerra was appointed as attorney general of California in 2017, when his predecessor, Kamala Harris, joined the Senate, and he was elected to a full term in 2018. He became known as a lead attacker in the Trump resistance, filing roughly 100 lawsuits against the administration on issues including climate change, gun control and health care. Notably, he led 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act. Before serving as attorney general, he spent 24 years in Congress, representing a Los Angeles district. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino to run the mammoth department, which has a budget of more than $1 trillion. He pledged at a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday to find “common cause” with his critics, and is scheduled to appear on Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee.
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, nominee for surgeon general. Dr. Murthy served as surgeon general under President Barack Obama — he was one of the youngest ever — and is Mr. Biden’s nominee for the same position. He is a physician who has taught at Harvard Medical School and served as vice admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Dr. Murthy has been outspoken about linking public health and wellness. His book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” was published last year. His confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Thursday.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force. A physician and public health specialist at Yale University, Dr. Nunez-Smith is leading a team of 12 experts advising the president on how to address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable communities. Dr. Nunez-Smith grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands and came from a family of health care providers. She has spoken in interviews about how seeing her father suffer a debilitating stroke in his 40s, caused by untreated high blood pressure, spurred her to work in public health.
Jeffrey D. Zients, coordinator of the administration’s Covid-19 response. Mr. Zients, an entrepreneur and consultant, joined the Obama White House in 2009 and became known as a Mr. Fix-It with strong operational skills. He was tapped to untangle the messy rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance marketplace in 2013. After Mr. Obama left office, Mr. Zients joined the private equity fund Cranemere as chief executive and also served on Facebook’s board.
Andy Slavitt, senior White House pandemic adviser. Mr. Slavitt, a former health care company executive, served as the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2015 to 2017. (His company was also involved in fixing the A.C.A. website before that.) Mr. Slavitt was outspoken in his defense of the Affordable Care Act during the Trump administration — and raised the alarm about the pandemic early in 2020. He’s active on Twitter, writes on Medium, and until recently, hosted a podcast about Covid. He has said that he accepted the White House job “on a short-term basis.”
Dr. David Kessler, chief science officer for the Covid-19 response. Dr. Kessler, a pediatrician and lawyer who was head of the Food and Drug Administration during the presidencies of George Bush and Bill Clinton, will oversee the vaccine program. He will share responsibilities with Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who was the chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to accelerate vaccines and treatments. (The Biden administration later dropped that name.) As F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Kessler was known for battling the tobacco industry and developing nutrition fact labels on food products. Dr. Kessler is close to Dr. Fauci; the two worked together to speed the development and approval of drugs that changed the course of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner, Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Woodcock was the longtime head of the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Review, and worked on Operation Warp Speed. The Biden administration has not yet nominated a permanent commissioner; Dr. Woodcock and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former high-ranking F.D.A. official, are the apparent front-runners.