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COVID-19 is not over, 'stay vigilant on masking, social distancing': former HHS secretary

Seana Smith
·Anchor
·3 min read
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With new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. declining, former United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius stresses that Americans need to stay vigilant as scientists "learn more about this virus each day."

“The news on COVID is quite encouraging but it's really, really important that we do not think COVID is over. We have to stay vigilant on masking, social distancing and staying out of crowded indoor events,” Sebelius told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “We need to keep doing the things that we know work because we're on a much more optimistic path than we were a month ago.”

The seven-day average of new daily cases in the U.S. has dropped nearly 60% from a month ago, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is also on the decline.

The numbers are certainly trending in the right direction, but it’s important to point out that the U.S. is still far from getting the pandemic under control. As of Thursday, the seven-day average for new cases remains higher than any time before November.

'Figure out logistics'

The Biden administration announced a deal this week for 200 million more doses of COVID vaccines from Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) by the end of July, but warned of operational challenges and possible setbacks in getting Americans inoculated.

Sebelius echoed those concerns.

“We need syringes. We need to figure out logistics,” Sebelius said. “We need to make sure the vaccines are equitably distributed and that people know how to find and get the vaccine. We need to address and overcome some people's reluctance to step up and step in line.”

While many Americans remain skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines, a CDC study published this week shows confidence is rising. The study found that as of December, 49.1% of Americans are “absolutely certain or very likely” to be vaccinated, up from just 39.4% in September.

But that confidence is not even across demographics. The study found that Black Americans, as well as those with lower educational attainment and income, are least willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

LONG BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Zemoria Harvey, 77, gets her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from EMT Sohei Yamaguchi at St. Mark Baptist Church in Long Beach on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. The mobile vaccine clinic focused on Black seniors as one way to help address equity in the city's coronavirus inoculation program. (Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Zemoria Harvey, 77, gets her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The mobile vaccine clinic focused on Black seniors as one way to help address equity in the city's coronavirus inoculation program.

Confirming Biden’s HHS pick is critical

As the Biden administration works to get Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible, they're pushing forward without key health officials in place. The confirmation of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, President Biden's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has been delayed in the Senate. Meanwhile, other appointments, including permanent heads of the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, have yet to be named.

Sebelius warns that this could slow the nation's response to the pandemic, adding that it's absolutely critical the Senate confirms Becerra in a timely manner.

“HHS is a critical factor in this recovery. It's a critical factor in the health of this country... Getting the health leader in place at HHS is a time sensitive issue and needs to happen as quickly as possible,” Sebelius said.

“I'm sure hoping they pick up the pace quickly with Xavier Becerra who is qualified to head this agency,” she added.

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith

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