Ashish Jha to leave covid czar position as White House winds down response

Covid-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha during the daily press briefing at the White House on Dec. 15, 2022. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman)

White House covid coordinator Ashish Jha will step down next week as the Biden administration formally ends the role, the latest marker that officials believe the virus threat has largely passed.

“We now have the tools to manage COVID-19 and the virus no longer controls our daily lives,” President Biden said in a statement on Thursday, announcing Jha’s departure and thanking him for his work.

Jha’s last day will be June 15, and he will return to his position as dean of Brown University’s public health school. Some of Jha’s duties, such as helping coordinate and advise the president on covid response, will be shifted to a new White House pandemic office, although a director for that office has not been named.

Jha “effectively translated and communicated complex scientific challenges into concrete actions that helped save and improve the lives of millions of Americans,” Biden said in his statement.

More than 1.1 million Americans have died from covid since early 2020, although severe covid cases and deaths have plunged in recent months, and the Biden administration formally ended its public health emergency for covid on May 11. Jha and other officials have acknowledged that the virus continues to circulate and remains a threat, mostly among the old and immunocompromised. More than 30,000 Americans have died from covid this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prominent experts also recently warned the White House that there is a roughly 20 percent chance during the next two years of a new covid outbreak rivaling the onslaught of illness inflicted by the Omicron variant.

Jha, who joined the White House in April 2020, helped oversee the creation of Project NextGen, a $5 billion initiative intended to accelerate new coronavirus vaccines and treatments. He also helped set up a $1.1 billion program to ensure that uninsured Americans can obtain coronavirus vaccines and treatments through next year. White House officials defended both initiatives in a recent deal with Republicans to suspend the debt ceiling and cut spending, although they agreed to rescind billions of dollars in other unspent covid funding.

Jha had initially told colleagues that he would leave the White House in May, timed to the Biden administration’s decision to end the covid public health emergency, but he stayed on to help manage the transition of his responsibilities to the new pandemic office, said two officials with direct knowledge of the decision who were not authorized to comment publicly.

Jha was the nation’s third covid coordinator, following Deborah Birx, who President Donald Trump named to the role in February 2020, and Jeff Zients, who Biden chose to replace Birx and currently serves as White House chief of staff.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Jha’s departure.



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