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'We can reopen the right away,' News 5 speaks with the Secretary of Health and Human Services

Posted at 9:34 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 21:34:16-04

CLEVELAND — As Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar holds the health of the nation in his hands. On Wednesday he spoke with News 5's John Kosich about the road ahead.

Question: Does he have any concerns about the pace with which the country is moving towards reopening?

Secretary Alex Azar: "We have the preconditions set where we can back to work, back to school, back in our communities. We can do it the right way, we can do it the safe way. This has been described too often as health vs. the economy, I like to think of it as health vs. health because there are very real health consequences that we've got to consider with being shut down. We can talk about the risk of disease but we need to also talk about the fact that individuals who are unemployed have a higher risk of suicide and mental illness. The fact that we had hundreds of thousands of foregone cancer screenings that haven't happened, of cancer treatments that haven't happened, millions of pediatric vaccinations that haven't occurred, preventive services that haven't occurred so very real health consequences right now that also have to weighed against the benefits of shutdown in terms of disease.

"So we do have to reopen. We have got the tools to do it, we got the testing the surveillance, the containment, the health system resiliency. We can do it and we can do it in a smart way."

Question: Governor DeWine said wearing a face covering is not about politics, it's about helping other people. Yet the president has suggested that wearing them is a sign of either political correctness or personal weakness. Have you talked to him about this and do those words and actions undermine your message?

Secretary Alex Azar: "So the president's situation is very different from the rest of us of course, he is the leader of the free world, the president is tested regularly. As you mentioned, as Governor DeWine mentioned you wear a mask to protect others from you, sort of the motto of our surgeon general is 'I protect you, you protect me.' The president is tested regularly, any of us who are in close proximity to him are tested that same day that we are with him so it's a very different circumstance when one is the president or is around the president from our normal circumstances.

"And we do recommend that if you are in a setting where distancing is not able to be done that you wear a cloth mask to protect others from yourself but again very different circumstance from dealing with the leader of the free world."

Question: Cleveland was the host of the Republican National Convention in 2016. It is a sea of people on buses, in lines, close proximity during the height of summer. The president wants to hold a full convention in August do you see that as even a possibility?

Secretary Azar: "A possibility, we have to be guided by evidence and science at the time and also by what the appropriate precautions are. I don't want to get into politics but as we think about any type of large scale gatherings there's a way to do things depending upon the local community circumstances at the time. If we have appropriate social distancing, appropriate procedures so there are ways to do this one simply has to come up with those approaches.

"I was just down in Charlotte, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as they were getting ready to have the running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday and they had testing protocols, surveillance protocols and social distancing protocols and mask wearing protocols all as part of that and I think that's what the president is saying that as we think about any of these gatherings it's time to actually come up wit the plans for how could one execute various forms of gatherings and let's kick the tires on those plans now."

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