Released: 6/5/2020 10:32:27 AM
By Tim O'Shei
Published June 4, 2020
Updated June 4, 2020
The Trump Administration’s top health official came to Buffalo on Thursday to meet with hospital workers and business leaders and to discuss reopening efforts during the Covid-19 crisis.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited staff at Buffalo General Medical Center and Gates Vascular Institute and toured a research lab at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Azar also participated in a business forum at Roswell to discuss Western New York's phase two reopening and the Trump administration’s plan, which pushes strongly for the benefits of restarting the economy.
"We can get back out there," said Azar, who spoke to The News by phone the day before his visit, and again in a one-on-one interview in Buffalo. "There are ways to be out engaged – to shop, to work, to play, to worship – that also protect against disease."
Those "ways" include three things that have become familiar since March: social distancing; hygiene (as in hand-washing and sanitizing); and the use of masks. Azar's contention is by accepting those, and then considering "the spread of the disease locally as well as our own personal health conditions and risks," people can make decisions that allow for safely managing the virus risk.
"The psychological shift is going to be one from people being afraid and in their homes to feeling confident that with appropriate, sensible protections, most of us can go out and get about our business and our lives and do so in the right way," said Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive who joined Trump's Cabinet in January 2018.
Azar, who has made similar visits in recent weeks to Charlotte, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, frames his argument around the health benefits of opening the economy. In conversations with medical practitioners and business executives, interviews with journalists and a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, he has pointed to the effects a slowed economy and quarantine-style living can have on mental health, drug use and the reporting of domestic issues. Azar has also addressed a drop in cancer screenings, vaccine administrations and stroke admissions and discussed the health and economic impacts of delaying elective surgeries.