Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Covid Coordinator, Set to Depart This Month
Dr. Ashish Jha, who coordinated the White House’s coronavirus pandemic response for the last year, will leave the Biden administration and return to his previous post as dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
In a statement announcing Dr. Jha’s departure, Mr. Biden praised him for having “effectively translated and communicated complex scientific challenges into concrete actions that helped save and improve the lives of millions of Americans.”
Dr. Jha plans to leave the White House on June 15, according to a senior administration official familiar with the timing.
Mr. Jha joined the administration in April 2022 as the United States and the rest of the world were emerging from the worst effects of the pandemic. He replaced Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s first Covid coordinator, who is now the president’s chief of staff.
His departure with little fanfare underscores how much the health crisis has receded from the daily lives of Americans, despite the continuing toll of the coronavirus on vulnerable parts of the population, including older adults.
When the pandemic began during the last year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, the White House personnel leading the fight against the virus — like Dr. Deborah L. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — were frequently on television and became household names.
Mr. Zients continued doing regular Covid briefings for reporters and the public when Mr. Biden took office, helping to coordinate the distribution of the vaccine and to respond to surges of variants that sent cases, deaths and hospitalizations spiking.
Dr. Jha was well known as a frequent contributor on cable news during that period. But by the time he replaced Mr. Zients at the White House, much of the country had moved on. Briefings for reporters became infrequent, and Mr. Biden rarely weighed in on the pandemic.
Last month, the administration formally ended the public health emergency that had shaped the government’s response to the pandemic since early in 2020. The White House is also now closing down the Covid response team that Mr. Biden assembled at the beginning of his administration, which Dr. Jha has led.
Dr. Jha had put off his departure while White House officials searched for a leader of a new pandemic preparedness office, who will help coordinate the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response, one senior administration official said. The White House has narrowed that search to around a half dozen people, with several of them considered leading candidates, the official added. A decision on that position is expected in the coming weeks.
Some senior advisers on the White House’s current Covid-19 team, including Lisa Barclay, Dr. Jha’s deputy, and Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, the team’s data director, are expected to move over to the pandemic office.
The ongoing Covid-19 response will also be directed by the existing federal public health infrastructure, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services.
White House officials had worked in recent weeks to preserve funding for one of Dr. Jha’s signature initiatives, the Covid-19 vaccine development program known as Project NextGen. Led by the Department of Health and Human Services, the $5 billion program aims to deliver new vaccine technologies that are more durable than the booster shots federal regulators have authorized.
Federal regulators are expected to authorize another round of booster shots late this summer in an effort to stave off a winter wave of cases.
Dr. Jha had also sought to accelerate federal efforts to examine wastewater for the virus and to improve indoor air quality to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Michael D. Shear is a veteran White House correspondent and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was a member of team that won the Public Service Medal for Covid coverage in 2020. He is the co-author of “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration.” @shearm
Noah Weiland is a health reporter in the Washington bureau. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Covid-19 in 2020.
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