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Azar points to 'individual responsibility' as answer to mounting outbreaks

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Thursday said people will need to take individual responsibility to curtail coronavirus outbreaks taking place across the United States.

Azar said the outbreaks were not being caused by the decisions of state governments to allow businesses to open, but by people not wearing face coverings and not social distancing once things did open.

"We don't believe it's about the fact of reopening in terms of a legal or regulatory structure," Azar told The Hill's Steve Clemons. "It's rather, how are we behaving within that context? Are we practicing appropriate social distancing, are we wearing facial coverings, especially in circumstances where we can't social distance?"

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Azar's comments, at an event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by the Biosimilars Forum, took the focus away from some governors' decisions to quickly reopen businesses, which are coming under increasing scrutiny amid the new outbreaks.

In contrast, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight health care: AstraZeneca says its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is up to 90 percent effective It's time for COVID-19 disaster relief ... for mothers Fauci: US could see 'well over 300,000' COVID-19 deaths MORE, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said explicitly earlier on Thursday that some Southern states reopened too quickly and not in accordance with White House guidelines.

"What we've seen, unfortunately, is that in some of the Southern states, the states have not really followed those guidelines in some respects and jumped over the benchmarks," Fauci said.

Fauci also called on individuals to take responsibility, for example by wearing masks, keeping six feet apart and washing hands, but he pointed to policy actions like closing bars as well.

Azar noted that individual responsibility might not be "every aspect of what we're experiencing, but that is definitely the feedback we're getting on the ground from these impacted areas and that's why we've been talking so much about acting with good individual responsibility here."

He did not mention any policy changes that he thinks governors should take.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE has encouraged states to reopen and is downplaying the new spikes in cases as simply the result of more testing, despite rising hospitalizations in some states.

Trump has also come under scrutiny for not wearing a mask in public. Critics say he should do so to set an example.

On a vaccine, Azar noted the government is now supporting four candidates.

"With each of them, we will drive towards manufacturing to have tens of millions of doses by this fall and hundreds of millions into the beginning of next year," he said.

Fauci has put the timeline for knowing whether a vaccine will work at the end of this year or early 2021.