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President-elect Biden urges everyone to wear masks to combat COVID-19

After meeting with his newly formed COVID-19 advisory board, President-elect Joe Biden stressed that wearing masks will help stop the spread of coronavirus.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden on Monday implored Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even as he cheered news about the promising development of a vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Biden in remarks after meeting with his newly formed coronavirus advisory board cautioned that Americans still face “a dark winter” and need to be aggressive about mask wearing and social distancing as infections continue to surge around the country. Though Pfizer announced promising results from a vaccine trial and is on track to file an emergency use application with regulators this month, Biden noted it could be months before a vaccine is widely available.

“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said. “Please, I implore you, wear a mask.”

The Democrat's transition team also unveiled members of Biden's coronavirus working group tasked with developing his administration's pandemic response — something Biden says he wants to put in motion as soon as he takes office in January.

The board will be led by former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University public health care expert Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.

Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with the German drugmaker BioNTech, said it is on track to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators this month.

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This announcement is Biden's first major decision after he defeated President Donald Trump on Saturday to become the 46th president of the United States, positioning himself to lead a nation gripped by a historic pandemic and a confluence of economic and social turmoil. His victory came after more than three days of uncertainty as election officials sorted through a surge of mail-in votes that delayed the processing of some ballots. Biden crossed 270 Electoral College votes with a win in Pennsylvania.

Biden won't be sworn into office until Jan. 20.

The co-chairs are former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Food Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University professor and researcher.

Notable among the task force members is Rick Bright, a vaccine expert and former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was reassigned to a lesser job because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug pushed by President Donald Trump as a COVID-19 treatment.

Other members include Luciana Borio, a biodefense specialist; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethics chair at the National Institutes of Health; Dr. Atul Gawande, a Clinton administration health advisor and surgery expert; Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert who has studied HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis; Dr. Julie Morita, a pediatric and immunization specialist; Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist; Loyce Pace, a global health specialist; Dr. Robert Rodriguez, an emergency medicine expert who has researched mental health of COVID-19 responders; and Dr. Eric Goosby, an infectious disease expert who has worked in AIDS/HIV.

Members of the COVID-19 Advisory Board have served in previous administrations and have experience engaging with and leading our country’s response to nationwide and worldwide public health crises.

The members of the advisory board include:

Co-Chairs:

  • Dr. David Kessler, Professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner from 1990 to 1997. 
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general from 2014-17, who commanded public health force that dealt with Ebola, Zika and Flint water crisis. 
  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University and associate dean for health equity research at Yale's medical school specializing in health care for marginalized populations. 

Members:

  • Dr. Luciana Borio, Vice president of technical staff at the In-Q-Tel strategic investment firm who until last year was a biodefense specialist on the National Security Council. 
  • Dr. Rick Bright, Immunologist, virologist. Ousted as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after criticizing the federal government’s response to the coronavirus under President Donald Trump. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was reassigned to a lesser job because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug Trump pushed as a COVID-19 treatment. 
  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Oncologist and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania who since 1997 has served as chair of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. 
  • Dr. Atul Gawande, Professor of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and at Harvard Medical School who served as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration. 
  • Dr. Celine Gounder,  Clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine who served as assistant commissioner and director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control at New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 
  • Dr. Julie Morita,  Executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who helped lead Chicago's Department of Public Health for nearly 20 years. 
  • Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, former science envoy for health security for the State Department. 
  • Ms. Loyce Pace, Executive director and president of the Global Health Council, who previously served in leadership positions at the American Cancer Society. 
  • Dr. Robert Rodriguez, Professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. 
  • Dr. Eric Goosby, Infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who during the Clinton administration was the founding director of the largest federally funded HIV/AIDS program. 

Public health officials warn that the nation is entering the worst stretch yet for COVID-19 as winter sets in and the holiday season approaches, increasing the risk of rapid transmission as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with loved ones.

“The next two months are going to be rough, difficult ones,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health. “We could see another 100,000 deaths by January.”

The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus infections a day, frequently breaking records for daily cases. Hospitals in several states are running out of space and staff, and the death toll is soaring.

The United States has more than 9.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Monday, the U.S. had more than 237,000 deaths from the virus. Worldwide, there are more than 50 million confirmed cases with more than 1.2 million deaths.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in rally at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.