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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar disputed a claim by White House trade advisor Peter Navarro that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention let the country down in its early actions regarding coronavirus testing.
“I don’t believe the CDC let this country down,” Azar said Sunday. “I believe the CDC serves an important public health role. And what was always critical was to get the private sector to the table.”
This coming after Navarro’s comments earlier in the day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” after anchor Chuck Todd asked if President Trump has confidence in the CDC to lead on the pandemic.
“Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro responded. “Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.”
ICYMI: @chucktodd asks WH Adviser Peter Navarro: “Does the president have confidence in the CDC?” #MTP @PeterNavarro45: “You should ask the president that question, not me. … The CDC, which really had the most trusted brand … really let the country down with the testing.” pic.twitter.com/vZUanwLHnS
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) May 17, 2020
Azar appeared on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” and anchor Margaret Brennan asked him if he takes responsibility for the CDC being blamed for failure and mistakes.
The secretary responded by stressing the unprecedented position the country has faced with the coronavirus.
“We were confronting a situation here that’s completely novel,” Azar said. “There has never been a national, immediate testing regime across public and private sectors. We have had to literally build this from the ground up.”
“That’s what some folks don’t quite understand here, is that the CDC’s role is to develop an initial, fairly low throughput public health test that health labs will do for initial diagnosis,” he added. “But then we count on the private sector actually to scale up these high throughput, large test capacities.”
Brennan pressed, “So you don’t take responsibility for any problems that the CDC has admitted to having had?”
“What problems did the CDC have?” he asked, before answering the question. “The CDC had an issue as they scaled up manufacturing of tests to get them out to about 90 public health labs. There was apparently a contamination at an end stage there on the third part of the reagent that never led to false negatives or false positives, but that prevented some of the scale-up for a couple of weeks.”
“But that was never going to be the backbone of testing, of broad mass testing in the United States,” he added.
Before commenting on Navarro’s remarks, Azar was asked if he takes responsibility for “any missteps.”
“The last time you were with us on ‘Face the Nation’ was March 1st, and at the time you told me, ‘What your viewers need to know is the risk to average Americans remains low.’ Do you stand by that? Do you take responsibility for any missteps you have taken?” Brennan asked.
Azar said that if the entire clip was viewed, it would show that he was using words Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts told me.
“I believe what I said is, ‘The risk to the average American at this time remains low, but that could change rapidly.’ I was always focused on warning the situation could change. At the moment, the risk was low to any individual American,” he said.