WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Wednesday plans to urge U.S. states and localities to take stronger steps to fight the coronavirus, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said as the governor of at least one state criticized the federal government’s handling of the outbreak.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar speaks to reporters in Washington, U.S., February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
“You’re going to hear from CDC today and the White House that we’re going to be making recommendations to those local communities about aggressive steps that we think they should be taking,” he told Fox News in an interview.
Azar added that federal leaders were working with local officials in the hardest hit states so far, including Washington, California, New York, Massachusetts and Florida, as they grappled with the virus, saying “strong mitigation steps” could help buy valuable time to control the virus.
The governor of hard-hit New York, however, said federal officials had left states scrambling to act on their own, including ramping up testing for the highly contagious – and sometimes fatal – respiratory illness.
“We can’t wait for the federal government because it’s not going to happen,” said Andrew Cuomo, who has deployed the national guard to help contain an outbreak outside New York City.
“The federal government has just fallen down on the job,” Cuomo, a Democrat, told MSNBC in an interview, adding that he has told other state governors “you’re on you own.”
The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has continued to rise steadily as almost three-quarters of U.S. states reported confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 1,025 cases and 28 deaths have been reported, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
Azar did not detail what recommendations federal health officials planned to issue. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had told reporters on Tuesday that recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be aimed at communities that have already seen spread of the disease.
State and local officials have noted the delayed U.S. response over testing capabilities has hampered their ability to manage the outbreak, even as U.S. President Donald Trump has offered assurances that anyone who wanted a test could get one.
Pence, tasked by Trump to lead the nation’s coronavirus response, met with a number of U.S. governors at the White House on Monday.
Maryland’s governor, Republican Larry Hogan, afterward praised Pence but criticized the mixed message coming from Trump, telling the Washington Post after the meeting that the Republican president “at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets.”
New York’s Cuomo said his state was moving aggressively on its own to expand testing, including the implementation of mobile testing seen in other countries.
“It’s either massive testing or massive quarantine, and we don’t want to quarantine, so we’re going to have to do the testing,” he told MSNBC.
Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky
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