Jeffrey D. Zients, an entrepreneur and management consultant who steered President Biden’s coronavirus response through successive pandemic waves and the largest vaccination campaign in American history, plans to leave the White House in April to return to private life, President Biden said in a statement.
Mr. Biden called Mr. Zients “a man of service” and praised his work to “build the infrastructure we needed to deliver vaccines, tests, treatment and masks to hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Mr. Zients will be replaced as the White House Covid coordinator by Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a practicing internist who has urged an aggressive approach to the pandemic in frequent television appearances.
Dr. Jha, who is also a health policy researcher with expertise in pandemic preparedness and response, will coordinate the government’s Covid response from inside the White House, officials said. But the selection of a veteran public health expert signaled that Mr. Biden believes the country has moved into a new phase of the fight against the virus.
With much of the country vaccinated, officials said the federal response would become more of a long-term public health effort and less of a moment-by-moment crisis requiring rapid government action. If new variants of the virus spread, they said, Dr. Jha will be able to draw upon the tools his predecessor put in place during the past 14 months.
In his statement, Mr. Biden said that “Americans are safely moving back to more normal routines, using the effective new tools we have to enable us to reduce severe Covid cases and make workplaces and schools safer.”
But he added that “our work in combating Covid is far from done” and called Dr. Jha the “perfect person” to fight the virus “as we enter a new moment in the pandemic.”
Officials said his background as a medical doctor makes him the right choice as the virus becomes more an endemic part of the country’s health challenges. In 2014, Dr. Jha was a co-chair of an international commission on the global response to the Ebola outbreak. And he has argued that agencies like the World Health Organization are critical in dealing with diseases like Ebola and Zika.
Mr. Zients, 55, became one of the unlikely faces of the Biden administration’s response to the deadly virus, a somber-sounding businessman presiding over weekly updates with public health officials that were streamed live on the White House website. He had committed to working in the West Wing for a limited time as Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, and extended his stay several times at the president’s request, officials said.
Mr. Zients’s deputy, Natalie Quillian, will also depart in April.
Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, called Mr. Zients a “once-in-a-generation managerial talent” and a “warmhearted friend.” He praised Mr. Zients for his work on getting Americans access to vaccines and tests.
“Today, over 215 million Americans are fully vaccinated, Americans have received over one billion at-home tests, 98 percent of schools are open and our economy is recovering,” Mr. Klain said in a statement. “Through the ups and downs of this past year, Jeff met every challenge with a level head and laser-focused execution. Because of that, lives have been saved here at home and in countless other countries.”
While some would like to think the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, a new form of the Omicron variant is rapidly spreading.
What's known as BA.2 -- a sub-lineage of Omicron -- now makes up nearly a quarter of new COVID infections nationwide.
The CDC says it's particularly a problem in New York and New Jersey, where 39% of the virus in circulation is BA.2.
It's also dominating new case worldwide, and some countries are facing a renewed surge of infects, just as they move to lift pandemic restrictions.
While COVID cases have been declining recently, positivity rates in our area have been slowly on the rise.
On Sunday in the New York City region, the positivity rate was at 0.96. It moved up to 1.23 on Monday and 1.28 on Tuesday.
In Manhattan, the positivity rate was at 1.33 percent on Sunday, 1.67 on Monday and 1.73 on Tuesday.