Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Sunday that Americans who flout social distancing and gather in groups have to “take ownership” of the behavior and get tested for COVID-19.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Azar, who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said his advice also applies to people in any “hot zones” where coronavirus cases are spiking.
“In the last several weeks, we have seen people engage in mass gatherings for any number of political and first amendment reasons, and I'm not going to comment on those aspects, but I'll talk about it from a public health perspective,” he said.
“I encourage all individuals who choose to engage in these kinds of activities for what variety and whatever reason, protect yourself, examine your own individual circumstances, examine the circumstances of those that you live with and take appropriate precautions. You have to take ownership.”
For those in hot zones, he urged: “Get tested because you could put yourself but more importantly you could put our most vulnerable citizens at risk of severe complications or even fatality.”
Azar was asked about a recent American Medical Assocation statement that suggested Arizona and other hard-hit states could soon be short of hospital beds.
“With all respect to the AMA, they don't have the information we have," Azar said. "We literally are on the phone with the hospitals in Arizona, Texas, California, Florida every day, measuring their PPE supplies and their reserves and making sure that we're there to support them.
"In Arizona, 15% of hospitalizations in-patient are from COVID. The rest of the capacity is consumed with other hospital uses and elective procedures and you're going to see governors and hospitals slowing down on elective procedures to make capacity," Azar said.
"We will ensure that Americans who need hospital beds have hospital beds, if they need an ICU, they'll have an ICU bed and if they need a ventilator, they'll have a ventilator and be able to deploy therapeutics to them to help them through also. It is very important we rely on data, we're following this at the microlevel, the county level, the hospital level.”
Azar also praised President Donald Trump and the administration “for providing free care for COVID patients, whether they have insurance or not.”
“The American people need to be reassured, get your medical care if you're uninsured, it will be covered by us,” he said of COVID-19 patients.
Azar also addressed administration efforts to end Obamacare.
"We have made very clear that if the Supreme Court strikes down all or a large part of Obamacare, because it is constitutionally or statutorily infirm, we will work with Congress to create a program that generally protects individuals with pre-existing conditions," he said.
He added that the administration agrees “individuals with pre-existing conditions should have coverage, but also affordable access to coverage, not $30,000 a year premiums and $12,000 deductibles.”
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