Dec. 7 (UPI) -- President-elect Joe Biden announced his picks Monday to head national health agencies and named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department Health and Human Services.
Becerra, 62, elected in 2017 as California's top prosecutor to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, served as a member of Congress for more than 20 years and helped drive passage of the Affordable Care Act. If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino to lead HHS.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, 43, who heads Biden's COVID-19 advisory task force, will return as surgeon general.
"I never dreamed I'd have the honor to once again serve as Surgeon General," Murthy tweeted Monday. "In this moment of crisis, I'm grateful for the opportunity to help end this pandemic, be a voice for science, and support our nation on its path to rebuilding and healing."
Rochelle Walensky, 51, an infectious disease expert at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was chosen to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I'm honored to be called to lead the brilliant team at the CDC," Walensky tweeted. "We are ready to combat this virus with science and facts."
Anthony Fauci will remain as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Biden team said Monday.
The new group of health leaders will face a national crisis of more than 280,000 deaths from COVID-19 and surges in new cases in the pandemic that Biden has said is the biggest threat to the United States.
"This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced -- getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones," Biden said in a statement Monday.
"This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, reopen schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America's capacity if we do it together," Biden added.
The team also announced that Marcella Nunez-Smith, of Yale Medical School's Equity Research and Innovation Center, will serve as the COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair.
Transition co-chair and former Obama administration official Jeff Zients will serve as White House coordinator of the COVID-19 response and counselor to the president. National security expert Natalie Quillian will serve as deputy coordinator.