The State Department’s top AIDS official has been tapped to fill a new role leading the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, the White House announced Thursday.
Ambassador-at-Large Deborah Birx, the US global AIDS coordinator since 2014, will be the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Vice President Mike Pence’s office said in a release.
Birx will be detailed to Pence’s office and supported by White House National Security Council staff. She worked on HIV/AIDS issues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President George W. Bush before she was nominated to her current post by President Barack Obama.
“Ambassador Birx is a world-renowned global health official and physician,” Pence’s office said in a statement. “Three different Administrations across both political parties have relied on her knowledge and judgement.”
Birx’s selection further shifts authority away from Alex Azar, Trump’s secretary of health and human services and chairman of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force, created last month to address the global crisis.
Trump announced Pence as the administration’s new point person for coronavirus response at a Wednesday press conference. Trump denied he was dissatisfied with Azar’s performance, saying he simply wants an all-hands approach.
“I don’t want to spare the horses,” Trump said. “I have very talented people. I want to use them on this because I want it to stay low or as low as possible.”
Alongside Birx, the White House on Thursday added three other members to the previously 12-person virus task force — Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economist Larry Kudlow.
Birx’s selection follows criticism from Democrats on Trump’s management of the crisis, and a stock market panic that plunged the Dow more than 2,000 points this week.
Outbreaks of the virus in Italy, Iran and South Korea increased the likelihood of a global pandemic after an initial spread in Hubei province, China.
More than 81,000 cases of the virus were confirmed as of Wednesday, with more than 78,000 in China, according to the World Health Organization.
On Wednesday, the number of new cases outside China exceeded new diagnoses within the country.
There are now 60 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US — including 45 people who were evacuated from the infected Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and from China.
Trump painted an optimistic outlook Wednesday evening, saying he expected markets to recover and encouraging Americans to wash their hands and avoid people who sneeze.
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