Health Secretary Azar Says America ‘Must’ Reopen — ‘It’s Not Health Vs. The Economy, It’s Actually Health Vs. Health’

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Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar said Sunday that there are severe health problems associated with not reopening the American economy.

“It’s not health versus the economy,” he told CNN “State of the Union host Jake Tapper, “it’s actually health versus health.”

Azar made the comments after Tapper questioned reopening the economy too quickly. “We see a crowded bar in Wisconsin, a boardwalk in new Jersey, another crowded bar in Ohio. Does it concern you as health secretary to see these images?” Tapper asked Azar.

“Thanks to the president’s historic response efforts here and the collaborative work of our governors and heroic health care workers on the front lines, we’re in a position to reopen,” Azar said. “The president has left it up to the states to know their local situation the best. It’s very hard to judge in any community — whether a bar being open, a restaurant, a school is the right thing.” (RELATED: ‘His Allegations Do Not Hold Water’: Alex Azar Unloads On Dr. Bright During Capitol Hill Testimony)

The health secretary suggested it was always essential to rely on local intelligence to assess whether a community or state is ready to reopen. “That’s why the local leaders lead this, the state supervises, and the federal government provides expertise and support from our level.”

But Azar said there should be no debate about the need to get the economy moving again: “Reopen we must, because it’s not health versus the economy. It’s actually health versus health. There are serious health consequences to keeping us shut down, whether it’s the [suicide] rates or if it cardiac procedures not being received, cancer screenings, [or] paediatric vaccinations declining. All of these are critical health needs that are part of reopening the economy.”

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump established an economic task force in April with a mandate of balancing public safety with economic survival. He has encouraged the states to reopen as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the economic damage. But many states continue to stall, including Michigan, where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues to be faced with angry anti-lockdown demonstrations on the front lawn of the state legislature building. (RELATED: President Donald Trump: ‘We Have To Get Our Country Back … It Was Artificially Closed’)

“In any individual instance you’ll see people doing things that are irresponsible, that’s part of the freedom that we have in America … If you’re in crowded areas and if you’re in an area that has ongoing community spread of disease, there are steps you should take,” Azar added. “That’s what our guidance is there for and we count on local leaders to implement and interpret them according to the local situation — but we’ve got to get this economy and our people out and about working, going to school again …”