WSJ: HHS chief's missteps delayed COVID-19 response

HHS Secretary Alex Azar waited weeks to brief President Donald Trump on COVID-19 threats and oversold the agency's progress on testing and other response actions, which ultimately slowed the nation's response to the pandemic, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Interviews with more than two dozen officials with the Trump administration completed by WSJ suggest Mr. Azar didn't effectively coordinate across HHS' divisions to address COVID-19. When officials asked Mr. Azar about diagnostic testing in a Jan. 29 meeting, Mr. Azar said more than a million tests could be ready in weeks. At that meeting he also said COVID-19 threats were under control.

While the CDC began sending tests the next week, a flaw led to a recall, further delaying response efforts. At the time, Mr. Azar criticized CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, for the delays. 

Despite Mr. Azar's reassurance that COVID-19 was under control, the federal government declared a national emergency six weeks after the Jan. 29 meeting. Mr. Azar was later sidelined from COVID-19 decision-making, according to WSJ.

In recent interviews with WSJ, Mr. Azar said HHS and the Trump administration were addressing COVID-19 threats "from day one." He said he gave the National Security Council early warning about the risk, and while the testing had flaws, the government has adapted to the challenges.

In a statement to WSJ, White House spokesperson Judd Deere said that under Mr. Azar, HHS was "leading on a number of the president's priorities." Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary said Mr. Azar has worked collaboratively with federal officials on the COVID-19 response.

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