HHS secretary points to ‘unhealthy comorbidities’ when asked about high coronavirus death rate in US

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Sunday pointed to a “significantly disproportionate burden of comorbidities” when asked about the high coronavirus death rate in the U.S. 

Azar said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the U.S. has been able to manage the health care burden of the coronavirus, despite having the highest reported death rates of any country from the virus. 

“Every death is a tragedy, but the results could have been vastly, vastly worse,” he said, adding that “to our knowledge” nobody in the U.S. has died because they didn’t have access to a ventilator or a bed in an intensive care unit. 

CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Azar on why the U.S. has had such a high mortality rate from the virus. The virus has infected more than 1.4 million people in the U.S. and killed 88,761, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths, based on the database. 

“Unfortunately, the American population is very diverse, and it is a population with significantly unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities — in particular, African American, minority communities — particularly at risk here because of significant underlying … health disparities and disease comorbidities, and that is an unfortunate legacy in our health care system that we certainly do need to address,” Azar said. 

Azar specifically pointed to hypertension, obesity and diabetes as comorbidities that make the U.S. “at risk for any type of disease burden.” 

Asked to clarify his comments, Azar said he’s not blaming Americans with health conditions but rather explaining the epidemiology. 

“Please don’t distort this. This is not about fault. This is about simple epidemiology,” he said. 

“One doesn’t blame an individual for a health condition. That would be absurd,” he added.  “It’s simply a statement that we do have greater risk profiles in the United States. This is why we’ve all highlighted — the surgeon general, the president — the special disease burden and risk factors in a lot of our communities that we’ve got to address.” 

Tags Alex Azar Coronavirus Jake Tapper Sunday talk shows

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