(Recasts with Biden coronavirus choices)
By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden has selected former Obama administration official Jeff Zients to be his White House coronavirus coordinator and former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to return in that role, Politico reported on Thursday.
Politico, citing two people familiar with the decision, also said Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, will play a key role in the incoming administration's response to the pandemic, focusing on health disparities.
Dealing with the health crisis and resultant economic fallout is one of Biden's top priorities once he takes office on Jan. 20. White House coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci will meet with Biden's team on Thursday for his first substantive talks with the new administration about how to combat the virus that has killed some 273,000 Americans.
Fauci, the top U.S. government infectious diseases expert, told CBS News he expected to have a comprehensive discussion with members of Biden's team who are working to establish priorities in addressing the pandemic and ensure a smooth transition on Inauguration Day.
Although he has spoken with Biden's White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain several times, the discussions were not substantive, Fauci said.
"I'm going to be meeting with them today, by Zoom, virtually. So today will be the first day where there will be substantive discussions about the transition between me and the Biden team," he said. "I'm very pleased that today we're having the first discussion about a number of things, vaccinations and things like that."
Fauci told CBS he wished the transition process had begun sooner. Outgoing President Donald Trump, a Republican, is contesting the results of the Nov. 3 election and his administration only gave the go-ahead for the transition to begin on Nov. 23.
As director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has been the most high-profile member of the White House task force since the pandemic began, often disagreeing with Trump on how to combat the virus.
U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have surged past 2,000 for two days in a row as the most dangerous season of the year approaches. Nearly 200,000 new U.S. cases were reported on Wednesday, with hospitalizations approaching 100,000 patients.
With Pfizer's vaccine already approved by regulatory authorities in Britain, hopes of a respite in the United States are resting on the start of widespread vaccinations as early as this month.
Spokesmen for Biden's transition team confirmed the Fauci meeting.
Biden also announced Brian Deese, who helped lead then-President Barack Obama's efforts to bail out the automotive industry during the 2009 financial crisis, will head the National Economic Council.
"I'm asking Brian Deese to do this job because he's someone who looks at hard problems and finds solutions that help make life better for American families," Biden said in a video posted by his transition team. "He'll be the first who is a true expert on climate policy." (Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Franklin Paul and Alistair Bell)