Jeff Zients Leaving Post as White House COVID-19 Coordinator

(Washington, D.C.) — President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy Natalie Quillian are leaving the administration next month, the White House announced Thursday. Ashish Jha will replace them as dean of Brown University School of Public Health.

Zients, an experienced manager and government executive, was brought on by Biden before he took office to devise and execute a “ wartime” federal government response to the coronavirus pandemic, including shoring up supply and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics and tests. The White House has changed its strategy from confronting an immediate emergency to assisting Americans to return to normalcy, as they learn to deal with a milder virus that will likely remain endemic.

Zients released the latest COVID-19 National Strategy earlier this month. This strategy allowed people to return to their normal activities safe after suffering two years from pandemic disruptions.

Jha was selected at a time when the Biden administration is being criticized for misinterpreting public messages about the virus, as there are many mandates and restrictions that are being eased.

Biden’s statement announcing Jha’s appointment highlighted his communications skills and familiarity to Americans as a fixture on cable news.

“As we enter a new moment in the pandemic — executing on my National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and managing the ongoing risks from COVID — Dr. Jha is the perfect person for the job,” he said.

Biden, in a statement, praised Zients and his team for “stunning” and “consequential” progress against the coronavirus pandemic.

“When Jeff took this job, less than 1% of Americans were fully vaccinated; fewer than half our schools were open; and unlike much of the developed world, America lacked any at-home COVID tests,” Biden said. “Today, almost 80% 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 noted that the U.S. is leading the global effort to fight COVID, “delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation.”

The State Department reported Thursday that over 500 million US doses have been sent to the rest of the world, exceeding the 1.2 Billion doses expected by the year’s end.

National COVID-19 Preparation Plan, a 90-page document that outlines investments and initiatives to reduce serious illnesses and death from the virus. It also prepares for new variations and provides resources to schools and employers to stay open.

“This plan lays out the roadmap to help us fight COVID-19 in the future as we move America from crisis to a time when COVID-19 does not disrupt our daily lives and is something we prevent, protect against, and treat,” the White House said. “We are not going to just ‘live with COVID.’ Because of our work, we are no longer going to let COVID-19 dictate how we live.”

Before his service in the Biden administration, Zients served as vice-chair of Biden’s transition. He was director of National Economic Council and acting director of Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration. Zients led efforts to repair following its devastating rollout in 2013. He was also a high-ranking executive in the Advisory Board Company.

Quillian was a bipartisan campaign manager in 2020. He also served as chief of staff to Obama’s chief of staff. Quillian had stints at both the National Security Council (NSA) and at the Pentagon.

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