Biden asks Fauci to join COVID-19 team, stresses need for masks

In interview with CNN, President-elect Joe Biden says he intends to ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days.

US President-elect Joe Biden has set up a COVID-19 task force to try to stem the spread of the deadly virus [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

United States President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday that he asked one of the country’s top infectious disease experts, Dr Anthony Fauci, to serve as his chief medical adviser when he takes office next month.

In an interview with CNN, Biden cited his Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s previous experience working with Fauci “during the last crisis”, an apparent reference to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, when Biden served as US vice president.

“I asked him to stay on in the exact same role as he’s had for the past several presidents, and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me as well and be part of the COVID team,” Biden told CNN, which tweeted out excerpts of the interview set to air later on Thursday.

Fauci, who has emerged as a leading US public health expert during the COVID-19 pandemic, met the Biden transition team for the first time on Thursday.

“I’m very pleased that today we’re having the first discussion about a number of things, vaccinations and things like that,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the US National Institutes of Health, said before the meeting.

Biden told CNN that he plans to ask the public to wear masks for 100 days to help drive down the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask,” Biden said. “Not forever, 100 days.”

His office would issue a standing order for people to wear masks in federal buildings and on interstate transportation, including aeroplanes and buses, he added.

Biden also said he would get the COVID-19 vaccine when Fauci says it is safe and would be happy to take it publicly. “It’s important to communicate to the American people it’s safe, safe to do this,” he said.

More than 14 million cases

To date, the US has reported More than 14.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 275,700 deaths linked to the virus, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic was also one of the most important issues for US voters in the November elections.

Donald Trump has faced criticism of his handling of the pandemic, with many accusing the US president of downplaying the risks of the virus and the need to encourage people to follow public health guidelines.

The Obama administration’s response to H1N1, headed by Biden in his capacity as vice president, was lauded by Biden’s supporters.

US testing
The US has reported more than 14.1 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic [David Zalubowski/AP]

When he endorsed Biden, Obama said, “Joe helped me manage H1N1 and prevent the Ebola epidemic from becoming the type of pandemic we’re seeing now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said H1N1 infected 60 million Americans, but only 12,469 deaths were reported.

But some Obama staffers said the low death toll was a matter of luck, Politico reported.

“It is purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history,” the US news outlet quoted Klain, Biden’s current chief of staff, as saying last year.

“It had nothing to do with us doing anything right. It just had to do with luck. If anyone thinks that this can’t happen again, they don’t have to go back to 1918, they just have to go back to 2009, 2010 and imagine a virus with a different lethality, and you can just do the math on that.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies