• The coronavirus outbreak has been expanding across the US in force for more than two months now, infecting almost 1.5 million Americans and killing almost 90,000.
  • On CNN on Sunday, Health Secretary Alex Azar delivered a message about why the coronavirus pandemic has been so severe in the US — it’s because so many of us are so unhealthy, with myriad underlying health conditions that exacerbate the COVID-19 virus.
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The Trump administration over the weekend took a surprisingly strange turn in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hasn’t exactly been met with universal acclaim in terms of everything from the conflicting guidance issued to the overly-optimistic talk that dominated the pandemic’s early days.

During a Sunday appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pointed to a culprit of sorts that’s responsible for how mercilessly the coronavirus is rampaging across the US: That culprit is, well, you and me, and the fact that we’re probably not as healthy as we’d like to be.

“Unfortunately the American population is a very diverse … It is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African-American, minority communities, particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease, health disparities, and disease comorbidities,” Azar said. “And that is an unfortunate legacy in our health care system that we certainly do need to address.”

It’s certainly an odd bit of messaging to deliver, at a time when a historic catastrophe has roiled daily life in America and millions of people are losing their jobs at a frightening pace — indeed, with the toll approaching a Great Depression-era level of unemployment. To say nothing of the fact that as of Monday morning, almost 90,000 people in the US have now died from the COVID-19 virus, according to the latest numbers from Johns Hopkins University.

It is true that these kinds of factors contribute to the severity of the deadly virus. But what’s also true is that this is the kind of unprecedented catastrophe that in normal times would see a presidential administration deliver a “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” message to Americans, instead of a pronouncement that’s more along the lines of — hey, all of this is kind of your own fault.

Host Jake Tapper probed whether Azar realized that’s what he was implying, that it’s the American people’s fault the crisis has become so severe. “Oh, no, Jake, please, please don’t — please don’t distort — no, this is not about fault,” Azar said, by way of trying to clean up his remarks. “It’s about simple — simple epidemiology and stating that, if we have hypertension, if we have diabetes, we present with greater risk of severe complications from corona — from this coronavirus. That’s — that’s all I was saying. And you know that.”


Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.