Mar 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jeff Zients to step down as Biden's COVID response coordinator

picture of jeff zients

Jeff Zients at a White House press conference. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Jeff Zients is set to leave his position as the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator in April, President Biden announced Thursday.

State of play: Zients will be replaced by Ashish Jha, who currently serves as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Biden called Jha "one of the leading public health experts in America."

  • Zients' deputy, Natalie Quillian, will also depart from the COVID response team.
  • The New York Times first reported the story.

What he's saying: "I called on Jeff Zients to lead my Administration’s COVID-19 response because there is no one better at delivering results than Jeff," Biden said.

  • "Jeff spent the last 14 months working tirelessly to help combat COVID.  He is a man of service and an expert manager. I will miss his counsel and I’m grateful for his service."
  • Biden credited Zients with orchestrating the White House's handling of the virus, suggesting he was responsible for 80% of adults being fully vaccinated, for keeping schools open, and for the "hundreds of millions" of at-home tests that have been distributed to the American people.

Biden said Jha, Zients' successor, is known for his "wise and calming public presence," adding that "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."

  • Jha, a practicing physician with expertise in infectious diseases, said he is "honored to accept" Biden's invitation to serve as COVID-19 response coordinator.

Between the lines: Zients had planned to work as COVID-19 response coordinator for only a limited time but kept extending his stay at Biden's request, the Times notes.

Background: Zients joined the White House COVID-19 response team in January 2021, succeeding Deborah Birx, who held the position under the Trump White House.

  • Prior to his work on the COVID team, he served as director of the National Economic Council, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, and led the team that fixed website during the Obama administration.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Ashish Jha's statement.

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