Meet the team Connecticut has assembled to plan for reopening the state after coronavirus infections subside

2020-04-17 | Howard County Times

April 17--As the state prepares for the coronavirus pandemic to eventually subside, Gov. Ned Lamont has named a group of highly accomplished leaders and advisers to a special task force charged with reopening the state.

Known as the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, the task force will help decide when and how bars, restaurants, retailers, barber shops, nail salons and other businesses will be able to reopen and start getting back to normal.

The reopening might be made in stages and industry by industry. Nail salons, for example, could take appointments only and ensure that everyone is wearing a mask. A small salon -- with the proper precautions -- could potentially reopen faster than a bar or restaurant where large crowds would gather, officials said.

The advisory group includes:

Indra Nooyi, co-chair, former PepsiCo. CEO

The former chief executive officer of PepsiCo. for 12 years, Nooyi is a longtime friend of Lamont from their days in graduate school at Yale. She was previously named by Lamont as the board chairwoman of AdvanceCT, a nonprofit organization that is designed to help state businesses.

For years, Nooyi has been listed among the most influential women in American business, and she was named the second-most powerful woman by Forbes magazine and the most powerful by Fortune magazine. She was listed two times on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World.

A native of India who has lived in Greenwich for nearly 30 years, she told reporters last year that she traveled for the first time to Connecticut in 1978 when she was planning to attend the Yale School of Management in New Haven. It was there that she attended with Lamont, and they graduated with master’s degrees in the same year -- 1980.

"I’m sort of a missionary for Connecticut,� Nooyi said last year during a forum in Greenwich. “Nobody in the Connecticut political system has reached out to us until Ned became governor. Nobody has ever said, ‘Come and help Connecticut.’ I want to do my part. It’s time for me to give back.�

Dr. Albert Ko, co-chair, Yale School of Medicine

Lamont describes Ko as “our Dr. Fauci� in reference to the nation’s best-known infectious diseases specialist. Ko is a department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health, where he serves as a professor of epidemiology and medicine. Lamont introduced Ko as "one of the world’s leading experts'' on infectious diseases.

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981 and Harvard Medical School in 1991, Ko conducts a wide range of health research at Yale. He oversees research in Brazil that includes studies of rat-borne meningitis and respiratory infections, and he has studied the Zika virus outbreak. He focuses on the transmission of diseases in urban slums that are related to climate and other factors in order to find the best strategies for prevention.

He currently serves as a member of the Zika Task Force for the Global Virus Network, and has served as a standing member for field studies of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

“Right now, I think the major issue is leave no one in the United States behind, whether they’re elderly, because of their health or economic status,� Ko said in a CNN interview in mid-March. “Also including immigration status, whether they’re citizens or not. We’re going to get behind this epidemic. We really need to cover and provide health care not only to all, but also public health interventions for all."

Advisors to the group include:

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, helped craft Affordable Care Act

Emanuel is currently serving as the vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. Previously an associate professor at his alma mater, Harvard Medical School, Emanuel is a bioethicist who also serves as a fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress.

He is the brother of former U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a high-profile Democrat who served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff before becoming mayor of Chicago, and helped craft the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to his academic duties, Emanuel also serves as a venture partner at Oak HC/FT, a firm co-founded by Lamont’s wife, Annie. After joining the firm in 2016, he has focused "on growth equity and early-stage venture opportunities in Healthcare,� the firm’s website says.

“Complexity is an understatement in the healthcare industry, but challenge ignites the spark of so many opportunities," he says on the Oak website. “We’re confident our approach and the strategies of our companies will prevail regardless of political agenda or regulation.�

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner

Best known as the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during the Trump administration until April 2019, Gottlieb is a Westport resident who has been mentioned by Lamont for his expertise.

A medical doctor who has ties to pharmaceutical industry, Gottlieb has been seen as a pro-industry physician with deep knowledge from his days as deputy FDA commissioner for medical and scientific affairs under President George W. Bush.

Gottlieb, who has made frequent television appearances during the coronavirus pandemic, coauthored a report for the conservative American Enterprise Institute that laid out a national strategy to lift COVID-19 restrictions. The plan calls for extensive testing, close monitoring of those who are infected and voluntary quarantines, among other measures.

“In each phase, we outline the steps that the federal government, working with the states and public-health and health care partners, should take to inform the response,� the report reads. “This will take time, but planning for each phase should begin now so the infrastructure is in place when it is time to transition.�

Paul Mounds, Jr., chief of staff to Gov. Ned Lamont

Named as Lamont’s chief of staff to replace Ryan Drajewicz, Mounds joined the administration at the start last year as the first chief operating officer. As part of that job, Mounds was in charge of recruiting, and one of those he helped to hire was IBM executive Josh Geballe. Geballe has now taken Mounds’s former position as chief operating officer and has become a key figure in the state’s response to the coronavirus.

Born in Hartford, Mounds has worked on the staffs of numerous Democratic office-holders, including U.S. Rep. John B. Larson of East Hartford, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. He worked directly with lawmakers during the Malloy years on passing various legislation. After leaving the Malloy administration, Mounds served as vice president for communications and policy for the Connecticut Health Foundation.

A graduate of Trinity College, he also served on the bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth that made detailed recommendations on tax and spending policies.

Charles Lee, director of Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine

As the scientific director at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Lee is an expert who studies “structural genomic variation in human biology, evolution and disease.’’

He is currently serving as the president of the Human Genome Organization, a major international group with members from more than 20 countries that is known in the industry as HUGO.

“The sequencing of the first human genome was a huge achievement, but a single genome tells us relatively little about human genome diversity, which has long been my personal area of research interest,’’ Lee said in a blog post. “To get at the difficult questions regarding disease variants, complex disease and more, we need to gather many thousands or even millions of genomes for analysis. There are efforts underway to do just that, but it will certainly take more than a village to make it happen.’’

Born in South Korea, he moved as a child with his family to Canada, where he obtained his Ph.D. in medical sciences at the University of Alberta in 1996. He began teaching at Harvard Medical School, where he started winning awards that included the 2008 Ho-Am Prize in Medicine, which is among Korea’s most prestigious scientific honors. From Harvard, he was recruited in 2013 to Jackson Labs in Farmington, where he still serves.

Lee has been a strong contender for the Nobel Prize in medicine, but he has not yet attained that accolade.

The reopening advisory group also includes Oni Chukwu, David Scheer, Harlan Krumholz, Alex Kamala and Mehmood Khan.

Christopher Keating can be reached at