Jeff Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, will be leaving the White House after 14 months on the job as cases of COVID-19 continue to decline across the country.
The president announced Zients’ departure in a Thursday statement, praising him as “a man of service and an expert manager.”
“When Jeff took this job, less than 1 [percent] 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,” Biden said.
“Today, almost 80 [percent] 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,” the president went on. “In addition, the US leads the global effort to fight COVID, delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation on Earth. The progress that he and his team have made is stunning and even more important consequential. Lives have been saved.”
Zients (right) appears alongside President Biden and Vice President Harris during an update on COVID-19 response on April 21, 2021.AFP via Getty Images
The 55-year-old Zients, a former corporate executive who served as head of the National Economic Council during the Obama administration, will be replaced by Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s school of public health, who has been a fixture in media coverage of the pandemic over the past two years.
“Dr. Jha is one of the leading public health experts in America, and a well-known figure to many Americans from his wise and calming public presence,” Biden said. “And as we enter a new moment in the pandemic … Dr. Jha is the perfect person for the job.”
While COVID-19 restrictions, such as mask requirements and social distancing, are being lifted across the US, Biden emphasized Thursday that “our work in combating COVID is far from done.”
Zients is a former corporate executive who headed National Economic Council during the Obama administration.Getty Images
“We must continue the effort to provide more vaccines and boosters,” he said. “We must get a vaccine approved for the youngest children. We must continue to improve how our schools and workplaces cope with COVID. We must take special care to protect the vulnerable from COVID, even as many restrictions are lifted. We need to provide tests, and treatments, and masks. We must fight the virus overseas, prepare for new waves, and new variants — all of which can be coming. And we must work with Congress to fund these vital steps, as time is running out to stay ahead of the virus.”
In recent months, the Biden administration came under scrutiny for what critics described as its slow response to a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. In January, five key Democratic senators wrote to Zients demanding to know “why the Administration failed to take more significant steps earlier to increase access to at-home tests” in time for the holiday case spike.
Zients has faced criticism over his allegedly slow response to the Omicron variant surge.The Washington Post via Getty Im
The Omicron wave has since abated, with the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases standing at 30,934 as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the lowest level since mid-July of last year.