HHS taps Kadlec to run department’s coronavirus response

By Adam Cancryn

HHS is putting its top emergency preparedness official in charge of coordinating the department’s coronavirus response — a sign of renewed urgency toward combating the worsening outbreak, according to an internal announcement obtained by POLITICO.

The directive circulated this afternoon designated Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec with managing the response across the government’s health agencies.

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir will serve as Kadlec’s deputy, and both will report to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

“The nature of our response is rapidly evolving, including toward an increased domestic focus that necessitates our continued synthesis of the incredible departmental efforts to date,” said the notice, which was signed by Kadlec.

An HHS spokesperson confirmed the move, adding that it fits under Kadlec's emergency support purview.

“This will maximize coordination among the relevant agencies within HHS,” the spokesperson said.

The new structure comes as the Trump administration races to head off a rapid increase in confirmed cases over the last 48 hours affecting dozens across the country and killing six to date. Azar and his health agencies have shouldered much of the blame for a series of early missteps, including the botched rollout of CDC testing kits that hampered the ability to screen patients.

Azar has turned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response — the group that responds to public health disasters — in past crises, most notably charging it with organizing the reunification of thousands of families separated at the southern border in 2018 under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance“ immigration policy.