Coronavirus: United States is 'in the beginnings of spread of this disease,' health secretary says

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday on Good Morning America that the country is "in the beginnings of spread" of the novel coronavirus and more aggressive containment efforts are coming.

His comments came just hours before the World Health Organization declared the global coronavirus crisis a pandemic.

"We're seeing a real explosion of cases in Europe, we're seeing increasing cases here in the United States which we've been clear we would see. We're still, I'd say, in the beginnings of spread of this disease in the United States," Azar said on GMA.

In the U.S., more than 1,000 people have been infected. The health secretary says Americans can expect to see "very aggressive efforts" to try to mitigate and contain the virus outbreak, which is why "public cooperation is important."

Here's Azar's full interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on GMA:

GS: We're joined now by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar . Thank you for joining us this morning. As you heard, there are so many issues around testing here in the United States. How many Americans have been tested? How many will be tested and what does that likely mean for the number of cases here in the United States?

AA: So George, the key thing your viewers need to know is we have and always have had the capacity to test anybody who is suspected of novel coronavirus. We have millions of tests available. Anyone under personal investigation, suspected by medical professionals or by public health officials is going to get tested, will get tested. We'll get that data if they are positive case.

GS: Let's talk about these contamination measures. New Rochelle being contained, Washington state expected to announce today a ban on any kind of large gatherings. How much more of this are we going to need, more of these containment measures will we need to prevent a big spike in cases?

AA: Yeah, George. We're going to see very aggressive efforts to mitigate and contain the situation. We commend New York and Washington. We're working with them closely, and, in fact, today we'll release the CDC's recommendations to various jurisdictions that have had clusters, and we'll lean in as the Vice President said. We're going to be always recommending aggressive measures because if we can slow the spread, if we can contain these clusters in certain communities, bring that speed down, the hope of course, is that like most respiratory diseases, as we get to warmer weather, as people disperse and just naturally distance themselves without directivities, this can actually help slow things down. So, we're working always to buy time so that we mitigate impact here in the united States.

GS: Does that mean events like the NCAA tournament here are going to have to be rescheduled?

AA: I think any type of large gatherings have to be assessed by the organizers, but it has to be considered in community context. Each of us as individuals, we need to assess whether it makes sense for us to go to large gatherings. We have made it clear if you are elderly or medically fragile, generally of any age, you really should avoid large gatherings, or long travel. Certainly avoid getting on a cruise ship. So always think about your own situation, the circumstances of your community and the nature of what you are planning to do.

GS: You mention the time line. This all began in China of course. They're slowly turning things around there. Can you give people a sense of where we are here in the United States with that time line? Is this the beginning, the middle -- the beginning of the end?

AA: So, you know, China's gotten this very much -- very aggressive action. I think they had only 46 new cases the other day, but we're seeing a real explosion of cases in Europe. We're seeing a real explosion of cases in Europe, we're seeing increasing cases here in the United States which we've been clear we would see. We're still, I'd say, in the beginnings of spread of this disease in the United States. But thats why we're taking such aggressive containment measures at the border as well as mitigation steps in local communities. As I said, to try to slow the spread, we need to be really clear. We have been clear from the start. We're going to see more cases. This is a virus, this will spread. We need to take steps to slow that, buy ourselves time. Every day we buy is a valuable day in terms of spreading and that's why aggressive efforts are needed and public cooperation is important.

GS: Secretary, thank you for your time this morning.

AA: Thank you, George.


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