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White House adds new members to coronavirus task force

The White House on Friday added five new members to the coronavirus task force, signaling a new focus on reopening the economy and developing vaccines.

The additions, announced by Vice President Pence, include Labor Secretary Gene Scalia, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control Trump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions MORE. They also added Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, and Thomas Engels, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Pence said in a statement that the new members would add expertise in vaccines, therapeutics and workers’ safety as the task force “renews its focus on getting Americans back to work.”

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The White House had initially planned to scale back the work of the task force in early June but Trump backed off those plans last week after public outcry. Still, Trump signaled that the task force would shift its focus to reopening the economy as well as the development of vaccine and therapeutics.

“At a certain point, we won’t need a task force, but we’re going to leave that," the president told reporters last week. "We’re going to add a couple of people to it and that will again be for the opening of our country."

The new members were announced on the same day Trump officially unveiled a push to accelerate coronavirus vaccine development dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.” The administration is hoping to fast-track vaccine development and production to have hundreds of millions of doses available by the beginning of next year, a timeline health experts view as a lofty goal.

Trump has been eager to reopen the country in order to address the lagging economy, which has been devastated by business closures caused by the coronavirus. A number of states have started loosening coronavirus restrictions, many of them doing so without meeting criteria for reopening recommended by the White House.

Top health officials like Anthony FauciAnthony FauciBiden moves to halt US exodus from World Health Organization Presidential pardons need to go Pence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden MORE, a key member of the task force, have warned of the possibility of future outbreaks and deaths in states reopening too quickly.