On January 21, the day the first U.S. case of coronavirus was reported, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services appeared on Fox News to report the latest on the disease as it ravaged China. Alex Azar, a 52-year-old lawyer and former drug industry executive, assured Americans the U.S. government was prepared.
A clinician takes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) blood samples to be tested at the Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
“We developed a diagnostic test at the CDC, so we can confirm if somebody has this,” Azar said. “We will be spreading that diagnostic around the country so that we are able to do rapid testing on site.”
While coronavirus in Wuhan, China, was “potentially serious,” Azar assured viewers in America, it “was one for which we have a playbook.”
Azar’s initial comments misfired on two fronts. Like many U.S. officials, from President Donald Trump on down, he underestimate.d the pandemic’s severity. He also overestimated his agency’s preparedness.
As is now widely known, two agencies Azar oversaw as HHS secretary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, wouldn’t come up with viable tests for five and half weeks, even as other countries and the World Health Organization had already prepared their own.
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