Sec. HHS Azar says ‘the window is closing’ to curb the coronavirus spike

WASHINGTON – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Sunday that “the window is closing” to take steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus as cases in the southern United States continue “on the rise” .

In an interview with “Meet the Press,” Azar said the country has “more tools than we had months ago” to combat the virus and the disease it causes, including new treatments and more personal protective equipment. But he emphasized that the United States faces a “very serious situation.”

“We have our mortality rates and our hospitalization rates the lowest in two months, but this is a very serious situation. What are we doing about it? We are emerging, working with our local authorities and states, ”said Azar.

“We have the tools to do this, we just did this in the past few weeks in North Carolina. But the window is closing. We have to act and people and people must act responsibly. We need social distance, we must use facial covers if we are in environments where we cannot social distance, particularly in these hot zones ”.

The United States has had more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases and nearly 126,000 deaths attributed to the virus, according to data analyzed by NBC News, and the country established a new daily registry of cases on Friday.

On Saturday, Florida, South Carolina, Nevada and Georgia reported all-time highs in new daily cases, and Johns Hopkins University figures show that the US is responsible for a plurality of the world’s 12 million coronavirus cases. .

In light of the trends, several states and cities have paused or reversed their plans to reopen.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, DN.Y., whose state has had significantly more coronavirus cases than any other state thanks to an early increase in cases, criticized the federal response to the virus so far and accused the government of telling states , effectively: “You are only in this.”

“They are saying what they said three months ago, they basically deny the problem, they don’t want to tell the American people the truth, and they don’t want any federal response except to support the states.” he said Sunday in “Meet the Press”.

“This is a virus, it does not respond to politics. You can’t tweet it, you have to treat it. And we never did that. “

He added that “if these states continue to rise, we are going to have a national crisis like we have never seen before.”

Throughout his interview, Azar repeatedly emphasized the importance of practicing social estrangement and wearing masks in public to slow the spread of the virus.

But Random boss President Donald Trump doesn’t wear a mask in public places (he wore it during a private tour of a Ford plant in Michigan) and his campaign held an indoor rally last weekend over objections from the main members of their coronavirus task. force.

Meanwhile, some Republican leaders have tried to publicly emphasize the importance of wearing a mask. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Tweeted a call for people to wear masks with a photo of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a mask, and Governor Asa Hutchinson, R-Arkansas, told the ” MTP “from MSNBC. Daily on Friday that a “consistent national message endorsing the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing is very important to making sure everyone understands the importance of it.”

“Nothing beats leadership,” said Hutchinson.

Azar did not directly answer questions about whether the president is setting the right example, arguing that the administration as a whole continues to emphasize the importance of public health guidelines.

“So I’m the president’s health secretary. I tell you, practice social distancing. When he can’t adequately distance himself socially, we encourage him to wear a face covering, ”he said.

“The president’s guidelines for reopening, the president’s guidelines, his guidelines have said from day one, they practice social distancing. If you can’t, wear face covers.

When pressured about the president’s behavior, Azar pointed to recent mass gatherings of protesters calling for racial justice in the wake of a series of police killings of black people across the country.

“I am not going to talk about politics. But we have seen massive gatherings in the past few weeks with people who correctly voiced the First Amendment and political views, and this is appropriate, ”he said.

“But my message is public health, that is, if you are going to participate in any type of large gathering, I encourage you, consider your individual circumstance, consider the circumstances of those with whom you live, and take appropriate precautions.”

It is still unclear what impact, if any, the protests had on the spread of the virus. A preliminary document from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-governmental organization, did not find a peak attributable to those protests.