High Covid-19 death toll due to minorities with 'greater risk profiles', says HHS Secretary Alex Azar
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar explained that hypertension, diabetes, and other underlying health conditions heighten the risk of severe complications from coronavirus
Health conditions among Americans -- particularly in minorities -- could explain why the country has the highest death toll, a top US health official said, as the number of fatalities in the country inches closer to 90,000.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the statements to CNN, hailing US President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus threat. Other reports have pointed out how Trump did not take the virus too seriously until it was too late. According to two experts, the country could have reduced deaths by 90% if it has implemented social distancing two weeks earlier, on March 2, as per a Business Insider report.
But Azar focused on the poor state of health in the US instead. He told CNN: "Unfortunately, the American population is a very diverse, and, it is, it is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African American, minority communities, particularly at risk here, because of significant underlying disease, health disparities, and disease comorbidities." When CNN's Jake Tapper questioned Azar if he was suggesting that many Americans are dying because they were "unhealthier than the rest of the world," Azar said he did not mean that.
He went on to add that the US had a "significantly disproportionate burden of comorbidities ...[such as] obesity, hypertension, diabetes. These are demonstrated facts that do make us at risk for any type of disease burden." Azar explained that hypertension, diabetes, and other underlying health conditions heighten the risk of severe complications from coronavirus. He added: "One doesn't blame an individual for their health conditions. That would be absurd. It's simply a statement: that we do have greater risk profiles here in the United States."
The pandemic has, however, exposed inequalities in health systems. It is particularly hitting low-income Americans and people of color harder. As of May 11, Covid-19 killed as many as 17,155 Black Americans and 10,586 Latino Americans, according to the American Public Media (APM) Research Lab. They reached these numbers after analyzing data from 39 states and the District of Columbia. During the interview, Azar suggested that the US is headed in the right direction. He added that we are in the position to reopen, thanks to the President’s historic response efforts.
“We have got to get this economy and our people out and about, working, going to school again because there are serious health consequences to what we’ve been going through,” he said. Surveys also seem to conflict with the Trump administration's decision. According to ABC News / Ipsos poll, about 64% of Americans think reopening states to save the tanking economy will backfire and cost more lives. And a Pew Research Center poll shows that 68% of all adults are concerned state governments will lift stay-at-home restrictions too quickly.
Stats from these poll comes amid concerns over how the economy is tumbling due to stay-at-home orders. The pandemic has left about 33 million Americans without jobs. Azar's statements about resuming business also contradict other experts. Recently, Dr Anthony S Fauci, a member of the Coronavirus Task Force, and Dr Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned that premature reopening could take a heavy toll on the US. They added that the country does not have enough testing capacity yet. "There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery," Dr Fauci said.