BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Buffalo Thursday as Western New York begins phase two reopening.
“The right way to think about reopening isn't health versus the economy, but rather health versus health,” Secretary Azar stated.
Secretary Azar toured Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Research Lab in downtown Buffalo. He will learn about cancer treatments and discuss the important cancer screenings conducted at Roswell while keeping patients safe as the region reopens.
Azar will also visited Buffalo General Hospital, where COVID-19 patients are being treated, where he discussed with healthcare workers about keeping patients safe for non-COVID health services.
HHS Azar has been promoting President Trump's push to reopen the U.S. economy and making a strong call for states to reopen.
Secretary is on a mission to remove fear about going into hospitals and facilities for needed procedures.
Azar toured Buffalo General's cardiac unit were daily cardiac procedures dropped from 90 a day to 30 during the pandemic.
“But we've got to get people back in for the preventive care for the health screenings that they need. We've actually seen nationwide that individuals with suspected stroke haven't been in emergency rooms,” remarked Azar.
Roswell showed off its Abbott Rapid Testing for detecting COVID patients and discussed the importance of learning quickly for cancer patients.
But Secretary Azar was also asked about the spread of COVID in nursing homes nationwide. Azar was critical of New York State’s decision to force nursing homes to take COIVD positive patients.
“There's no CDC guideline saying you should be taking positive and putting them back in the community in nursing homes — that's why other state's haven't taken the same action," responded Azar.
Azar says there is no federal investigation into how the state handled it.
“We haven’t looked into a federal of how the state handled it — we certainly want the state to be very aggressive in looking at these nursing homes,” said Azar. “Here in Erie County and the Buffalo area, we’ve got many homes that have had significant infections and deaths that are one-star rated homes.”
The health leader also declared there must be "adequate" infection control in nursing facilities.
But he places burden back on states and governors saying they must make it their top priority to protect seniors in the facilities as they regulate nursing homes.
“Because it’s the states, license, regulate, oversee, inspect and penalize our nursing homes,” Azar noted.
6,000 deaths occurred in nursing homes across the U.S.
Azar noted when reopening, each region is impacted differently.
“What’s going on in Buffalo is going to be different from what’s happening in New York City -- it’s going to be different from what’s going on in Des Moines,” explained Azar.
Azar wrote a recent commentary, published in The Washington Post, titled “We have to reopen - for our health”.
“The Trump administration is committed to helping each state and all Americans have the information and tools they need to safely reopen,” Azar wrote.
Azra also stated in that commentary about the low numbers of people going for preventive healthcare due to COVID fears.
“Data suggests the numbers of Americans receiving important preventive services are down significantly, with mammograms down 87% and colonoscopies down 90%,” Azar stated.
Phase two is allowing for all elective surgeries to resume in the Western New York region.
Azar stated the U.S. has a strategy for “how to move forward”.
“The Trump administration is committed to helping each state and all Americans have the information and tools they need to safely reopen,” wrote Azar.
There is a local connection to the HHS agency. East Aurora native, Michael Caputo, a republican political strategist, was appointed in April to serve as assistant of secretary of public affairs for Azar. Caputo has been a controversial figure and shortly after his appointment, CNN pushed a Caputo tweet that made racists remarks against Chinese people and COVID-19.
The tweet, from March, was deleted, but it stated “Sure, millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer”. Caputo had also used the hashtag “#ChineseVirus” a repeated phrase used by President Trump throughout the pandemic.
Following Azar’s events at the Buffalo medical centers, he will meet with reporters for a news conference. 7 Eyewitness News will be covering the press briefing and will provide coverage.