Leadership Shift Signals New Phase on COVID

US coordinator Jeffrey Zients stepping down in place of Dr. Ashish Jha
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2022 10:53 AM CDT
US Gets a New COVID Leader
Jeffrey Zients, pictured here, is being replaced by Dr. Ashish Jha as the nation's COVID czar.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The US is getting a new COVID coordinator, and the change in leadership is seen as a shift in strategy in regard to the virus. Essentially, the nation is moving from emergency mode to long-term prevention mode, per the AP. The White House said Thursday that Jeffrey Zients is stepping down from the post he's held over the last 14 months, one in which he oversaw the largest vaccination campaign in US history, reports the Hill. He will be replaced by Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

The shorthand of the move is seen in their resumes: Zients doesn't have a medical background, but he's seen as an expert manager, and he spent much of his time working with drug companies and public health officials behind the scenes as the pandemic unfolded. Jha, however, is an epidemiologist, notes CNN. He has been a regular presence on news shows throughout the pandemic, generally arguing in favor of aggressive measures to contain the virus.

"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," President Biden said in praising his outgoing official. "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." However, the New York Times ticks off other points: The delta and omicron variants "caught the White House off guard," and "the public was often confused by conflicting messages." The vaccination campaign, meanwhile, ran into more friction than the White House anticipated, it adds. (Read more Jeffrey Zients stories.)

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