The White House will reportedly disband its COVID response team when the public health emergency ends in May, according to a report.
The Washington Post first reported the news Wednesday evening. The report said that continually decreasing numbers of deaths from COVID, and no surge in cases during the winter months, contributed to the decision. The White House previously announced that the public health emergency would end on May 11.
“As a result of this administration’s historic response to Covid-19, we as a nation are in a safer, better place than we were three years ago,” a senior administration official told The Washington Post. “Covid no longer disrupts our lives because of investments and our efforts to mitigate its worst impacts. Covid is not over, fighting it remains an administration priority, and transitioning out of the emergency phase is the natural evolution of the covid response.”
“We took these jobs with a goal of becoming obsolete,” another official who previously worked on the team said.
Notable among the officials set to depart once the team disbands is national coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. According to the Post, Jha is expected to leave government work entirely. He has been on leave from his post as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health since April, when he joined the COVID team. Some officials have said that the Biden administration could create a new role for him, including head of a newly-created pandemic response office, or simply stay on as COVID coordinator; but other officials said he is not interested.
A number of key officials on the team have previously departed. Jha’s predecessor as COVID response coordinator, Jeff Zients, resigned from the post in March 2022. Mary Wall, who served as chief of staff, and communications staffer Subhan Cheema, have both departed.
Other top health officials who worked alongside the team have also left. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, retired in December. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, retired in December 2021. Vaccine distribution adviser David Kessler also left his post in January, the Post reported.
News of the COVID response team disbanding comes after the White House announced an end to the national and public health emergencies. In a statement of policy from the White House Office of Management and Budget on January 30, the White House admitted that it would file one last extension of the national and public health emergency declarations on April 11, then would end both one month later, on May 11. The memo came in response to two bills in Congress that would force the end of these declarations.
“The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020,” OMB said in its statement. “They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date. This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE.”