WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he has named Dr. Ashish Jha to be the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator as the White House looks to move the country into a new phase of the pandemic.
Jha will replace Jeff Zients, who led the administration’s response to the coronavirus for the last 14 months. Unlike Zients, who had a background in business and in government, where he helped the Obama administration fix the troubled healthcare.gov website, Jha comes with a deep background in public health research.
"Dr. Jha is one of the leading public health experts in America, and a well-known figure to many Americans from his wise and calming public presence," Biden said in a statement.
Biden said Jha is "the perfect person for the job" as the U.S. enters a new phase of the pandemic and his administration executes Biden's Covid-19 Preparedness Plan. As part of the strategy, the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday shared a guide for improving air quality and reducing the risk of spreading dangerous airborne particles.
The president said work to fight Covid "is far from done" as the country tries to provide more vaccines and boosters, including a vaccine for young children, and prepares for new variants.
The transition comes among indications that the U.S. is seeing another uptick in cases. While the number of positive tests has been steadily declining, wastewater monitoring sites have shown an increase in signs of infection. The increase in at-home tests, where the results aren't reported to public health departments, could be skewing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers for new infections, public health experts have said.
Zients has been a steady public presence in the administration's Covid response, often leading the White House's Covid briefings and giving television interviews. Biden noted that when Zients first took on the role, less than 1 percent of people in the U.S. were fully vaccinated against Covid, fewer than half of schools were open and the country lacked at-home Covid tests.
"Today, almost 80 percent of adults are fully vaccinated; over 100 million are boosted; virtually every school is open; and hundreds of millions of at-home tests are distributed every month," Biden said. "In addition, the U.S. leads the global effort to fight Covid, delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation on Earth. The progress that he and his team have made is stunning and, even more important, consequential. Lives have been saved."
Jha has been serving as dean of Brown University's School of Public Health and has practiced as a general internist. He previously led the Harvard Global Health Institute and taught at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.
Zients will leave the White House in April, the announcement said. The White House did not provide details on his plans following his departure.