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Shutdowns carry their own health consequences, HHS Secretary Azar says

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / AP)
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / AP)
By Ros Krasny and Tony Czuczka Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON – The question of when and how to end stay-at-home orders in the U.S. is a health-vs.-health equation as well as an economic one, President Donald Trump’s health secretary said.

There’s a “very real health consequence to these shutdowns” that needs to be balanced against possible illness from the coronavirus, Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

That’s shown in terms of other medical procedures or regular screenings not being performed or postponed until the COVID-19 outbreak is further contained, he said.

Azar made similar comments on CNN.

“Whether it’s the suicidality rates, or cardiac procedures not being received, cancer screenings, pediatric vaccinations declining,” he said on “State of the Union.” “All of these are critical health needs that are part of reopening the economy.”

The U.S. has more than 1.4 million cases of the virus and more than 88,000 deaths so far, the world’s highest totals.

Many of the protests against lockdowns – including one planned for New York’s capital on Sunday, encouraged by Trump in a tweet – have focused on what demonstrators say is a violation of their civil liberties.

But Peter Navarro, White House policy coordinator for the National Defense Production Act, said the U.S. has “basically locked down” hospitals “for everything but COVID” in the past two months.

“Women haven’t been getting mammograms or cervical examinations for cancer. We haven’t been able to do other procedures for the heart or the kidneys,” Navarro said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And that’s going to kill people as well.”

The majority of U.S. states are taking at least gradual steps toward reopening.

Azar said he was encouraged that states like Georgia and Florida, which took early steps to lift their lockdowns, haven’t shown a significant jump in new cases. “Reopen we must,” he said on CNN.

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