Data indicating progress has been made against the Coronavirus pandemic is beginning to emerge, according to United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
It’s still too early to officially declare that the U.S. government’s mitigation efforts have officially “bent the trend,” Azar told WIBC host Tony Katz Monday morning, but social distancing in conjunction with substantial increases of equipment and resources for medical personal and facilities are undoubtedly having an overall positive impact in the battle against the disease.
“It’s a whole country approach and we’re seeing some encouraging signs, but the next several days of data will be critical in determining how we move forward from here,” Azar told Katz.
Secretary Azar pushed back on partisan criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic – specifically in New York City, where Mayor Bill deBlasio has sought to place blame for hospital overcrowding and a shortage of ventilators.
“I think in a political environment that it’s easy to throw numbers out,” said Azar, “but you have to probe deeper and the issue of the ventilators is a perfect example.”
He continued: “There’s a lot of back and forth, but we’re working with real data and real needs. We’re rushing crucial equipment and ventilators to New York, reallocating resources – one governor sent a surplus of ventilators back to us because they had more than they originally forecast they would need – and we’re doing everything we can to provide support, but it’s got to be data-driven – not emotionally driven.”=
Secretary Azar acknowledged that New York has been hardest hit by the pandemic, but cautioned against focusing resources entirely on the Empire State to the exclusion of other emerging hotspots in the country.
“We can’t intentionally create other areas of vulnerability, but yes, if it gets to that point where there is a severe shortage, we would certainly encourage areas that haven’t been as heavily impacted to responsibly provide support and resources to areas that have,” said Azar.
Secretary Azar also addressed a Saturday report in the Washington Post that alleged the Trump administration had dismissed warnings about the threat posed by the coronavirus in January as “alarmist,” telling Katz he would not engage in a game of “palace intrigue” and speculation.
“Let me just say that under the President and Vice President’s leadership from day one, we’ve been engaged and active and we’ve used our time wisely,” said Azar.
He continued: “Back in January, for instance, we started doing procurement and coordination with manufacturers of N95 facemasks and surgical masks to scale up production. It was thanks to those efforts by the President that our capacity to produce N95 respirators expanded from 250 million per year to 640 million per year. And it was that work that allowed us – once Congress passed an emergency supplemental bill – to almost immediately issue a procurement for over half a billion N95 masks and scale up production in the United States. And I can go through countless other efforts by the administration that have enabled us to provide the resources and support to New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and other critical areas that they need.”
Secretary Azar was highly critical of China, however, for their failure to provide open and accurate data to the international community prior to the emerge of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.
“We could have been so much more prepared and we could have been making life-saving progress on mitigation efforts and protecting the people of the United States if China had taken us up on our offer to get CDC people in or the World Health Organization team,” said Azar. “It was over a month from our initial offer until the World Health Organization team was able to get on the ground, and that would have given us really critical foundational knowledge and helped the entire world know how to better prepare for, contain, and mitigate this virus.”
Click the link below to hear Tony’s full interview with United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images