On February 10, 2021, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced the 12 individuals to serve as non-federal members of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
The twelve Task Force members represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, a range of racial and ethnic groups, and a number of important populations, including: children and youth, educators and students, health care providers, immigrants, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, public health experts, rural communities, state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments, and unions.
As Chair, Dr. Nunez-Smith also asked six additional Federal agencies to be represented on the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force as federal members. This includes the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, and Department of Labor.
|Task Force Chair||Task Force Sub Committees||Task Force Members||Federal Ex-Officio Members||Task Force Staff|
Task Force Chair
Marcella Nunez-Smith MD
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith currently serves as Associate Professor of Medicine, Public Health, and Management and Associate Dean for Health Equity Research at the Yale School of Medicine. She is co-chair of the President's COVID-19 Advisory Board and the founding director of Yale's Equity Research and Innovation Center. She created the NIH-funded Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network to improve health outcomes in an historically underserved region. Originally from Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Nunez-Smith received her BA from Swarthmore College, her M.D. from Jefferson Medical College, and her master of health science from Yale University.
Task Force Sub Committees
Communications and Collaborations|
Mayra Alvarez, Chair
Jo Linda Johnson
Data, Analytics, and Research|
Joneigh Khaldun, Chair
Healthcare Access and Quality|
Tim Putnam, Chair
Structural Drivers and Xenophobia|
Haeyoung Yoon, Chair
Jessica Cardichon Richard Cho
Jo Linda Johnson
Task Force Members
Mayra Alvarez, MPH|
Mayra E. Alvarez, MHA is President of The Children's Partnership, a California advocacy organization working to advance child health equity. Previously, she served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama-Biden administration, including at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Office of Minority Health, and the Office of Health Reform. She has also served as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and House of Representatives. A native of California, she graduated from the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California at Berkeley.
James Hildreth, PhD, MD
Joneigh Khaldun, MD, MPH
Tim Putnam, DHA, EMS|
Tim Putnam is President and CEO of Margaret Mary Health, a community hospital in Batesville, Indiana and has over 30 years of healthcare experience. He received his Doctorate in Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina where his dissertation was focused on acute stroke care in rural hospitals. He is a past president of the Indiana Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Association. In 2015 he was appointed by the Governor to the newly created Indiana Board of Graduate Medical Education and has chaired the Board since its inception. Dr. Putnam is also a certified Emergency Medical Technician.
Homer Venters, MD
Homer Venters is a physician and epidemiologist working at the intersection of incarceration, health and human rights. Dr. Venters is currently focused on addressing COVID-19 responses in jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities. Dr. Venters is the former Chief Medical Officer of the NYC Correctional Health Services and author of Life and Death in Rikers Island. Dr. Venters has also worked in the nonprofit sector as the Director of Programs of Physicians for Human Rights and President of Community Oriented Correctional Health Service. Dr. Venters is a Clinical Associate Professor of the New York University College of Global Public Health.
Bobby Watts, MPH, MS
Federal Ex-Officio Members
Department of Health and Human Services
Rachel L. Levine, MD serves as the 17th Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where she fights every day to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. She’s working to help our nation overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and build a stronger foundation for a healthier future - one in which every American can attain their full health potential. Dr. Levine’s storied career, first in academic medicine, and as a physician then Pennsylvania’s Physician General and then as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, has focused on the intersection between mental and physical health, often treating children, adolescents, and young adults.
Department of Homeland Security
Pritesh Gandhi, MD, MPH serves as the Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Homeland Security, as appointed by President Biden in January 2021. In this role, he serves as the principle advisor to the DHS Secretary, Assistant Secretary for the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD), the FEMA Administrator, and DHS senior leadership on medical and public health issues related to natural disasters, border health, pandemic response, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters. Dr. Gandhi is a public health trained and board-certified internal medicine specialist. He most recently served as the Associate Chief Medical Officer and Director of Adult Medicine at People’s Community Clinic. He co-led the COVID-19 response team and recently served as an affiliate faculty at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. He is a Fulbright Scholar, Schweitzer Fellow, National Health Service Corps Scholar, and was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar in 2018. Dr. Gandhi completed a dual internal medicine and pediatrics residency at Tulane University in New Orleans and holds a degree in International Relations & Economics from Tufts University where he also completed his MD and MPH.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Jo Linda Johnson, Esq serves as the Director of the Office of Equal Rights. She previously served as the Director of the Civil Rights Division at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) . Prior to TSA, Ms. Johnson spent almost 13 years with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. During her tenure with the Commission, Ms. Johnson served in several roles, including that of appellate attorney with the Office of Federal Operations (OFO), Special Assistant to the Acting Vice Chair of the Commission, and Director of Training and Outreach. She is considered an expert on civil rights laws, the federal sector EEO process, issues of affirmative employment and affirmative action, diversity and inclusion, communication and problem solving.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Richard Cho, PhD, serves as Senior Advisor for Housing and Services in the Office of the Secretary. In this role, Richard advises the Secretary on HUD’s efforts to end homelessness, protect HUD-assisted households from COVID-19, advance the community integration of people with disabilities, connect housing with health care, and crest housing options for returning citizens. Richard brings to this role two decades of experience at the community, state, and federal levels building collaboration between the housing, health care, social services, and criminal justice sectors to address the housing and services needs of vulnerable Americans.
Department of Education
Jessica Cardichon, EdD, JD serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Dr. Cardichon’s most recent position is serving as the Director of the Washington D.C. Office and Director of Federal Policy at the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) where she plays a leadership role in the organization, including developing and advancing LPI's federal policy agenda. She is also the lead author of Advancing Educational Equity for Underserved Youth, among numerous other LPI publications. Jessica began her career teaching in New York City for seven years and then working for Teachers College, Columbia University, as a program manager for implementation of early career educator induction programs. Upon moving to Washington, D.C., she served as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. She then served as Senior Director for Federal Policy and Advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Department of Agriculture
Sara Bleich, PhD is the Senior Advisor, COVID-19, in the Office of the Secretary: Previously, Dr. Bleich served as a Professor of Public Health Policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her research centers on food insecurity, as well as racial injustice within the social safety net. She is the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications. From 2015-2016, she served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration, where she worked in USDA as a Senior Policy Advisor for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. Dr. Bleich holds a PhD in Health Policy from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University.
Department of Justice
Shannon Pazur, JD is the Senior Counsel in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, where she handles a wide array of policy issues. Prior to joining DOJ, she was a counsel in the Washington, DC office of O’Melveny & Myers, where she focused on appellate litigation. She is a graduate of Duke University and the University of Virginia School of Law.
Department of Labor
Ms. Jamila Minnicks Gleason is a Senior Counselor to the Solicitor of Labor. In this role, she has advised the Solicitor on issues arising under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Executive Order 11246, the Mine Safety and Health Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. During her tenure at the Department, Jamila litigated Title VII cases before administrative tribunals, and ERISA matters in both district and appellate court litigation under ERISA, working to safeguard employees’ hard-earned pension and health benefits. Prior to joining the Solicitor’s Office, Jamila litigated civil rights matters arising under the Voting Rights Act and Title VII in private practice. Jamila is also an award-winning novelist. Both her debut Hydrangeas of New Jessup, which won the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and her current work-in-progress, delve into the detrimental impact of racism on Black women, as well as the challenges that Black women historically faced accessing and navigating the healthcare system—a topic of passion informed by familial and personal experience.
Task Force Staff
Designated Federal Officer: Samuel Wu (OS/OASH)
Executive Director: Martha Okafor (ACF)
Senior Advisor: Sherice Perry (OS/IEA)
Project Director: Phillip Blanc (FDA/CBER)
Project Implementation Manager: Shondelle Wilson-Frederick (CMS/CMCS)
Project Operations Manager: Cheryl Levine (HHS)
Special Assistant: Jamie Babin (OS/ASPR/IO)
Policy Analyst: Taylor Campbell (HHS/OS/OGA)