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Two Latino physicians and disease experts are part of Biden's Covid-19 task force

Dr. Robert Rodriguez voluntarily provided care to patients during a Texas Covid-19 surge, and Dr. Luciana Borio warned Americans of the coming pandemic.
Image: Luciana Borio and Robert Rodriguez
Drs. Luciana Borio and Robert Rodriguez.Reuters; The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Two Latino physicians and researchers are among the medical and science professionals President-elect Joe Biden has named to his Covid-19 task force.

Dr. Robert Rodriguez is a California emergency room doctor who responded to a Covid-19 surge in his native Texas, and Dr. Luciana Borio is an expert in biodefense and emerging infectious diseases who left the Trump administration and warned the public in January of the coming Covid-19 crisis.

Rodriguez is a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California San Francisco. He has had a front-line view of the ravages of Covid-19 in Texas.

Borio, an infectious disease physician, served on President Donald Trump's National Security Council as a member of its pandemic response team until Trump disbanded it in 2018. She is vice president of technical staff at In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit venture capital company that develops new technologies for national security agencies.

The board represents the first steps taken by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to begin the transition to a new administration and begin their approach to controlling the pandemic. The Biden-Harris team laid out Biden's plans to tackle the pandemic on its transition webpage.

Rodriguez: 'Sickest patients I had ever seen'

Rodriguez volunteered to return to his hometown, Brownsville, Texas, to help during a Covid-19 surge in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. Rodriguez also has been dealing with Covid-19 cases in two hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area.

In an online panel held by the League of United Latin American Citizens in mid-August, Rodriguez said he had "seen firsthand how the pandemic has devastated Latino communities."

Cases in San Francisco were steady, but he said the work he did in Brownsville was "the hardest experience of my life, the hardest work as an emergency physician, as an intensive care physician."

"I flew down there, and the next day I was in the ICU treating the sickest patients that I had ever seen in my career. The doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists were working extremely hard, but they were simply overwhelmed with the number of cases," he said. "At the time, we had about five times the number of cases in the ICU there as compared to my hospital [in San Francisco], which was a much bigger hospital and a much better resourced hospital."

He called Covid-19 "the medical crisis of our times."

"We need to address this topic seriously, and we need leadership that will take it on and not minimize the pandemic," he said on the call, which included Jill Biden, who will be the next first lady.

Rodriguez has published many research reports, many that focus on health care in the Latino and the undocumented populations. He is the associate chair of research for the emergency medicine department at the UCSF School of Medicine.

Borio, who is from Brazil, is known for having spoken out when she became concerned about the virus's potential to spread in the U.S. and the lack of action from the Trump administration. On Jan. 28, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion article she co-wrote, titled "Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic."

"First, the most important public-health tool for containment is the identification and isolation of cases to break the chain of spread," the opinion piece said, urging easily accessible testing, more protective equipment and more infection control procedures.

Borio, a graduate of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, was assistant commissioner for counterterrorism and emerging threats and acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration during the Obama administration. She helped develop countermeasures and public health responses to the 2009-10 H1N1 flu pandemic, the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak and the 2015-16 Zika outbreak.

She practices medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital at Baltimore.

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