‘We have to act’ — HHS Secretary Azar warns ‘window closing’ to halt coronavirus spike

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Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar wears a face mask while attending a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Sunday that time was running out for the U.S. to curb the spread of coronavirus as cases rise across the country.

“We’ve got the tools to do this,” Azar told NBC’s Meet The Press. “But the window is closing, we have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibility. We need to social distance, we need to wear our face coverings where we can’t social distance, particularly in these hot zones.” 

Azar’s warning comes as President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence claim the country has “flattened the curve” and that new cases can be attributed to increased testing capacity. However, former CDC Director Tom Frieden told Fox News Sunday that the rise is attributable to community transmission in states that reopened too quickly.  

“As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase,” Frieden said. “It is not more tests, it is more spread of the virus.” 

The U.S. has seen several consecutive days of record spikes in cases following a number of states quickly lifting lockdown restrictions to reopen their economies. 

The U.S. on Friday reported 45,255 additional coronavirus cases on Friday, a record-high number of new daily cases that brought the total cases past 2.5 million across the country. States hit the hardest include Texas, Arizona, Florida, California and Nevada. 

As of Friday, the U.S. seven-day average of new cases increased more than 41% compared with a week ago.  

The country is in a stronger position to fight the virus than it was during the start of the outbreak, according to Azar, who pointed to increased testing capacity, treatments, contact tracing, supply of personal protective equipment and hospital capacity. 

Azar said that the number of hospitalizations and deaths could surge in the next few weeks. Deaths from COVID-19 generally lag behind other data points such as hospitalizations and infections. 

Azar, in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, denied that states reopening prematurely was tied to the spike in cases and instead blamed “inappropriate individual behavior” that has spread the virus.

“That’s not so much about what the law says on the reopening as what our behaviors are within that,” Azar said. 

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