Biden appoints Atul Gawande ’87, Loyce Pace ’99 to COVID-19 advisory board

Nov. 10, 2020, 9:18 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden named Stanford alums Atul Gawande ’87 and Loyce Pace ’99 to a 13-person COVID-19 advisory board for his transition team on Monday.

The board is meant to create a plan to lessen the impact of the pandemic by protecting at-risk populations and ensuring that vaccines are effective and efficiently distributed. Gawande and Pace are likely to draw on their previous experience advising government officials and mobilizing advocates, respectively, when working with the board.

Biden promised throughout the course of his campaign that his response to the pandemic would be guided by science. “Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden wrote in his press release

He has now brought on academics, major figures in medicine and former health officials for the government. Some members, listed on the team’s website, are among President Donald Trump’s most noted critics. Several offered advice to the current administration through op-eds and a whistleblower complaint, but these have largely been ignored.

Three medical doctors — former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner David Kessler and Yale University’s Marcella Nunez-Smith — will serve as co-chairs.

Gawande is an author, a Harvard Medical School professor and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He entered Stanford as an undergraduate with a plan to go to medical school. 

The political atmosphere at Stanford also inspired him to pursue political science in addition to biological sciences. He volunteered for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign, according to The New York Times, and subsequently earned a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, where he earned a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

Gawande previously served as a senior advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Additionally, he founded Lifebox, a nonprofit organization charged with the mission of making surgery a safe practice globally.

According to a Guernica interview, he is a fervent reader whose interests span a broad spectrum of genres, including the works of Leo Tolstoy, David Foster Wallace and Ernest Hemingway. Due to encouragement from friends, he started a writing career at the turn of the century, eventually publishing four nonfiction texts, the most recent of which, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller in 2014.

Pace worked as director of regional programs for the American Cancer Society. She is also president and executive of Global Health Council (GHC) since December 2016. She is involved in foundations such as Livestrong and the American Cancer Society and has worked towards Human Rights and Catholic Relief Services.

“At a time when U.S. leadership and engagement around the world is being called into question, it is critical that we work to solidify our country’s role in multilateral policymaking and programs,” she said in a vision statement for the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

As an undergraduate, she studied biology with the intention of becoming a doctor, but her budding interest in public health grew after Stanford. As a graduate student, she continued to concentrate on international health and human rights. In 2005, she earned a master of public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and entered the health and wellness sphere, first addressing global health needs in her hometown of Los Angeles and then prioritizing equity in health work during her ultimate career in Washington, D.C.

This year, she has been a vocal critic of the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) during the coronavirus pandemic, contending that the decision could lead other nations to withhold their funding to the agency.

In an open letter to the Trump administration, Pace’s GHC and other signatories wrote, “The United States cannot rid this insidious virus from the country, nor around the world, without WHO… At a time of the worst public health disaster in the last 100 years, suspending funding to WHO would be like cutting the water supply to a firefighter in the middle of a fire.”

Specific actions from this group could take the form of consultation with state and municipal officials to determine public health and economic policy, as well as meetings to address school reopenings and ongoing societal disparities that marginalized groups have faced during the crisis. 

Moreover, in the time between now and Inauguration Day, the transition team will “critically need to assemble a modern public-health infrastructure that can support testing, treatments, and supplies not only for this pandemic but for the next one,” Gawande wrote in the New Yorker.

Other members of the advisory group include public health official Eric Goosby of the University of California, San Francisco; infectious disease specialist Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota; and Luciana Borio, who was formerly the FDA’s acting chief scientist and served on the National Security Council for the Trump administration.

Contact Matthew Turk at mjturk ‘at’ and Tiffany Saade at tiff24 ‘at’

Matthew Turk ’24 is a Data Director for The Stanford Daily and is majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics. He has previously served as a desk editor in News, managing editor of The Grind and Chief Technology Officer. This past summer, he was a Software Engineering Intern at Apple. His novels, An Invincible Summer (2021) and Baba Yaga (2022), are in stores. Ask Matthew about astrophysics, football and the automotive industry. Contact him at mturk ‘at’ Saade is a staff writer in the news and The Grind sections. She is a freshman from Beirut, Lebanon and will probably major in Political Science in the Justice and Law main track with a double minor in International Relations and Human Rights with an interest in Creative Writing. She enjoys riding her yellow bike and singing out loud on Stanford campus! Contact her at thegrind 'at' for additional optimistic conversations about the future, and for some much needed light!

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