When President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, he will inherit a pandemic that has convulsed the country. His transition team last week announced a 13-member team of scientists and doctors who will advise on control of the coronavirus.
One of them is Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and assistant professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. In a wide-ranging conversation with The New York Times, she discussed plans to prioritize racial inequities, to keep schools open as long as possible, and to restore the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the premiere public health agency in the world.
In an interview with the New York Times, Gounder said, “I’m a part of the Biden-Harris advisory board. Then there’s the internal transition team, which is much bigger. The transition team has been developing a COVID blueprint, the nuts and bolts of the operations, and this is something they’ve been working on for months.” Describing the objective of the advisory board, she said, “The purpose of the advisory board is really to have a group of people who think big, creatively and in interdisciplinary ways — to be a second set of eyes on the blueprint they’ve come up with, and also to function as a liaison with state and local health departments.
On th question of returning to normal life, Dr. Gounder said, “If you have widespread community transmission, there may come a tipping point where you do need to go back to virtual schooling. But I think the priority is to try to keep schools open as much as possible, and to provide the resources for that to happen. From an epidemiologic perspective, we know that the highest-risk settings are restaurants, bars, gyms, nail salons and also indoor gatherings — social gatherings and private settings.”
After months of criticism and ignoring by Trump of CDC, Dr. Gounder said, “The approach is going to be much more along the lines of giving control back to the CDC. There’s recognition that the CDC is the premier public health agency in the world. And while their role has been diminished during this current crisis, they play a very important role in all this.”
While pointing the vaccines, and its distribution, she said, “our local doctor’s office is not going to have the deep-freeze capability that, at least for the Pfizer vaccine, you’re going to need. They’re not necessarily going to have the tech systems to track and call people back to make sure they get their second doses.”
The incoming administration is contemplating state mask mandates, free testing for everyone and invocation of the Defense Production Act to ramp up supplies of protective gear for health workers. Indeed, that will be “one of the first executive orders” of the Biden administration, Dr. Gounder said.