Courtesy of Yale School of Public Health, Wikimedia Commons

Associate Dean for Health Equity Research Marcella Nunez-Smith will serve as one of three co-chairs on President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force. 

Biden announced on Saturday that Nunez-Smith will chair the task force alongside former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MD ’03 and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner and former Yale School of Medicine Dean David Kessler. On Monday, Biden also announced the remaining 12 members of the task force.  

“The transition advisory board is setting a course for everyone in our country to experience recovery,” Nunez-Smith wrote in a statement to the News. “I’m honored to help lead on that work and thank President-elect Joe Biden for the opportunity to serve.” 

Nunez-Smith’s career has centered around promoting health equity for marginalized populations. In a project funded by the National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute, Nunez-Smith developed a tool to assess patient-reported discriminatory experiences in healthcare. As the founder of Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network, Nunez-Smith also worked to support chronic disease research in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. 

Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging Howard Forman, who collaborated with Nunez-Smith in 2018 on a School of Management initiative to address health disparities affecting minority populations, spoke to Nunez-Smith’s qualifications for the co-chair position. 

“[Dr. Nunez-Smith] is exceptionally well qualified to serve in this critical, timely, and important role,” Forman wrote in an email to the News. “Dr. Nunez-Smith has dedicated her career to shining a light on disparities in health and promoting health and healthcare equity for structurally marginalized populations.”  

Forman said he presumes Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris recognize the urgency of combatting this pandemic. He also said, however, that Biden must be aware that there is no “single silver bullet” that will solve the extreme hardships posed by COVID-19. Forman noted that, in appointing Nunez-Smith to the position, he believes the Biden administration is signaling the pandemic cannot be solved without addressing its disproportionate effects on marginalized populations.  

During a speech on Saturday night, Biden said that combatting the pandemic with a plan built on “a bedrock of science” will be the first priority of his administration. The appointment of Nunez-Smith and other COVID-19 task force members comes before any announcements from Biden about senior White House staff members and cabinet appointments. 

“Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” Biden said. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control… I will spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around.”   

Yale School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown emphasized Nunez-Smith’s knowledge of the pandemic’s effects on “the health of specific groups in the community,” which will be essential in addressing the challenges posed by the virus.

Department Chair of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health Albert Ko also said that  Nunez-Smith’s prior work as a clinician and researcher will make her an exceptional professional to co-chair the task force. 

He said that given how COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black and Latinx communities in the U.S., Nunez-Smith’s ability to construct “out of the box solutions,” her commitment to serving vulnerable populations and her leadership skills will benefit the nation. 

“Superb leader. I couldn’t think of anyone better,” Ko said. “Of course we are proud here at Yale, but, more important, is what she is going to be doing for people, the broader communities and nation.”   

In addition to Nunez-Smith, the two other chairs of the committee have ties to Yale. In an email to the News, University President Peter Salovey congratulated them, stressing the importance of the transition team for the future of the country.

He also described the University’s pride in having “three members of the university family” in the committee advising Biden on his public health strategy. 

“Drs. Kessler, Murthy, and Nunez-Smith exemplify Yale’s commitment to research excellence, and to improving the world today and for future generations,” Salovey wrote in the email.

Brown expressed similar sentiments, praising all of the scientists and policymakers affiliated with Yale who are addressing different aspects of the pandemic.

According to her, many Yale-affiliated experts have been actively involved in addressing the pandemic, but the three scientists in the advisory group will be even closer to generating change.

“We are delighted that the three co-leaders of the task force, all with ties to Yale, are poised to have an even greater impact,” Brown wrote.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 9,913,553 total COVID-19 cases in the United States as of Nov. 9.

Sydney Gray | sydney.gray@yale.edu

Beatriz Horta | beatriz.horta@yale.edu