President-elect Joe Biden names coronavirus task force, includes local expert

President-elect Joe Biden named his coronavirus task force Monday, which includes an infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota.

The 13-member advisory board includes public health experts from across the country, including a former U.S. surgeon general, a former FDA commissioner, doctors and scientists.

Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota will serve on the new board. Dr. Osterholm’s bio on the task force website reads: "Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, is Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Osterholm previously served as a Science Envoy for Health Security on behalf of the State Department. For 24 years (1975 to 1999), he worked in the Minnesota Department of Health; the last 15 years as state epidemiologist."

Dr. Osterholm spoke about his new position during a radio interview on WCCO News Talk 830 Monday morning.

"This is truly a science-rich, nonpartisan group that is just there to deal with the pandemic," Osterholm said.

Biden said the new task force will help shape his approach to managing surges in COVID-19, in addition to ensuring vaccines are safe, effective and distributed efficiently.

Full KSTP COVID-19 coverage

"I will spare no effort to turn this pandemic around once we’re sworn in on Jan. 20th," Biden said during a public address Monday.

Biden laid out his COVID-19 response plan, which includes doubling the number of drive-through testing sites across the country, mobilizing 100,000 contact tracers, enacting the Defense Production Act to boost the national supply of protective gear, creating a national dashboard for tracking coronavirus hotspots in real-time and restoring the country’s relationship with the World Health Organization. You can read his full plan here.

"It will be, I expect it to be, more governmental than what we’ve seen and perhaps much more governmental, depending on where the virus is. If it is in full swing, which is what the projections are saying, then I think we can expect full intervention," said Larry Jacobs, a professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Jacobs also said the new advisory board has the potential to be ‘critical’ and ‘demanding.’

"If we are in a freefall in terms of the coronavirus, this group is going to call it out and put pressure on the Biden administration to take action," Jacobs said. "Dr. Osterholm is famous in Minnesota and around the country for his candor. The candor is both about the severity of the problem but also the need to be rigorous in terms of solutions. He’s not a cookie-cutter sort of analyst."

Jacobs said the effects of a changing administration will likely be felt most strongly in places where COVID-19 infections are on the rise.

"In parts of Minnesota that are struggling and are seeing these sharp rises that are threatening to overwhelm our hospitals and intensive care units, then yes, we’re going to see a firmer hand from the federal government," Jacobs said.