The Charlotte Observer


U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited the front lines of North Carolina’s pandemic response Thursday, touring a COVID-19 testing facility at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a Charlotte clinic that serves the homeless.

At the Charlotte Community Health Clinic in the university area, Azar saw how professionals are using visits to homeless shelters and tele-medicine to reach under-served communities.

“This is unprecedented in my mind,” he told the Observer. “I’m just seeing here … incredible innovation in how they deliver care to the under-served. … This is a revolution in health care for us. I’m excited to be able to take this back to Washington.”

Clinic leaders credited the nearly $1 million of COVID-19 money from the federal government for the programs that allow them to serve more than 6,000 people, many of them uninsured.

But state officials Thursday said the federal government still hasn’t delivered needed testing equipment and other supplies.

At a news conference, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the state has received only about 20% of promised supplies.

“More is always needed,” she said. “The primary thing we’re needing is funding support for state and local government, and support for testing” in what she called an ongoing effort.

Azar said his department has “a great working relationship” with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration. He said he’ll “immediately have my team be in touch with the governor” about the level of supplies.

At the community clinic, Azar met with about a half-dozen administrators and medical professionals. With a client base that’s half-Hispanic and largely low-income, the clinic serves a population that Azar has acknowledged is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Speaking to CNN Sunday, he said African-American and minority communities with “an unfortunate legacy in our healthcare system” are often most susceptible to the coronavirus.

Asked Thursday what the government is doing about it, he said the department is trying to get more data while increasing funding for clinics and minority health programs.

Democrats took advantage of Azar’s visit to criticize the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, Secretary Azar is one of the original architects of the White House’s botched crisis response and no photo-op will change his failure to protect North Carolina families,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Paige Hill said in a statement.

Eighth District Democratic congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson said Azar should do more for minority communities. “More testing, paid leave for frontline workers, and guaranteed health care coverage could help close the gap,” with other communities, she said in a statement. “Without action, his concerns are just empty words.”

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