HHS secretary: 'The window is closing' to stop coronavirus spread

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday the “window is closing” to stop the spread of coronavirus, as cases across the South and West surge.

Azar said the country is in a different situation than at the last peak of the epidemic a few months ago, noting new therapeutics and advancements of COVID-19 vaccine research, but he added that “the window is closing.”

“We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly. We need to social-distance. We need to wear our face-coverings if we're in settings where we can't social-distance, particularly in these hot zones,” Azar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

Azar also dismissed the idea that the surge in cases is tied to states reopening and lifting restrictions put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

“This isn't about reopening or not reopening. We've got many communities in states that are just as reopened as these southern states but aren't experiencing this,” Azar said. “We've got to get to the bottom of why we're seeing these cases surge in this area, but at its core, we all own as individuals, our individual behavior to make sure that we are practicing appropriate social distancing and wearing facial covering when we're not able to, and practicing good personal hygiene and especially protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”

CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperCarson calls for local leaders to 'condemn vandalization of statues,' 'dismantle autonomous zones' Officials couldn't reach Trump on golf course to delete retweet of video showing man chanting 'white power': report Democratic officials, governors push for nationwide mask mandate as administration defends state-by-state approach MORE asked Azar on “State of the Union” if he thinks President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE is undermining the administration's message for Americans to wear masks by refusing to wear a mask and holding campaign rallies where crowds are not social distancing. 

“I am the president's health secretary and I am telling people just what President Trump has said from day one of the guidelines,” Azar responded. 

Pressed by Tapper, Azar said that Trump and Vice President Pence are in “a very unique situation” as they are tested for the coronavirus regularly.

More than a dozen U.S. states last week saw their worst day of coronavirus cases and deaths to date, and daily infections topped 40,000 for the first time in more than a month on Friday.