White House taps top HHS lawyer as No. 2 Covid response official

Barclay’s selection comes days after Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, began his duties as White House coronavirus response coordinator.

A veteran of multiple administrations, Barclay is expected to make up for Jha’s lack of government experience in the deputy role. Before serving as HHS deputy general counsel, Barclay served as FDA chief of staff during the Obama administration.

“Lisa Barclay has been selected to step into the role as White House Deputy Covid-19 Response Coordinator. In this role, she will serve alongside Dr. Ashish Jha to help oversee and coordinate the nation’s Covid-19 response efforts,” a White House official said in a statement.

The official touted Barclays’s “deep knowledge of the relevant regulatory frameworks for vaccines, therapeutics, and medical devices related to Covid-19.”

In her role at HHS, Barclay also helped negotiate agreements with international bodies for the US to provide vaccines to foreign countries.

Jha and Barclay are replacing Jeff Zients and Natalie Quillian, respectively, who announced last month they would be stepping down in April.

The change in leadership comes as the White House looks to move the country into a new phase of the pandemic that is less disruptive to Americans’ daily lives.

The White House released a plan that is focused on funding Covid-19 treatments, preparing for future variants, keeping schools and businesses open and continuing the effort to vaccinate the nation and the world. A big part of the plan, which requires new funding from Congress, is a new “Test to Treat” initiative where Americans can get tested for Covid-19 at a pharmacy and immediately receive free antiviral pills if they test positive. The administration is also looking at ways to best support Americans struggling with long-term impacts of Covid, including long Covid and mental health issues.

White House officials argue that even if new variants emerge and case counts rise, the nation is prepared and in a much better position than it was at the beginning of the pandemic because of the availability of vaccines, boosters, at-home tests, treatments and masks.

But the pandemic is far from over, and Covid-19 case numbers have once again begun to edge up in the United States. Nearly all of the new cases are caused by the Omicron subvariant BA.2. According to the latest estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BA.2 caused 86% of new Covid-19 cases nationwide last week.

Hospitalizations are far lower than they were at the peak of the crisis, but the new rise in cases was underscored by the several members of Biden’s Cabinet and key White House aides testing positive following the recent Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington. The dinner brings together some of the city’s most prominent journalists, including from CNN, and the government officials they cover.

On Wednesday, a source familiar with the Biden administration’s plans said the CDC would extend the federal transportation mask mandate for another two weeks due to increasing case counts.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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