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U.S. is ‘in a much better place,' HHS Secretary says

Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani and Akiko Fujita explain the latest on COVID-19 deaths, President Biden's declaration that the pandemic is over, and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra commenting on the U.S. health strategy at this point.

Video Transcript

- It is now time for our Chart of the Day. The World Health Organization's director general said in a briefing last week that the end of the pandemic is, quote, "in sight." The comments came amid a downtrend in weekly worldwide COVID-19 deaths. They are now lower than at the end of March 2020. Certainly good news there. The world may be seeing millions of new cases a week though. Thankfully, they are not currently translating into high levels of severe illness.

We're talking about this because we heard from President Biden last night, saying an appearance on CBS's "60 Minutes" that the pandemic is over. But he did acknowledge the US still has a problem with the virus. Let's bring in Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani for more on this. Anjalee, this is one of those comments that got a lot of people saying, well, wait a second. Is it too early to declare that the pandemic is over?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Yes. And a lot of experts point out to the fact that there is actually no specific definition of when a pandemic is over when an epidemic starts. And so that really is why the issue is up for debate right now. Of course, we know if the president does declare the pandemic over, that takes away some of the emergency powers that he does have and really puts into motion what would be already starting really which where we see that commercialization of the vaccines, treatments, and testing.

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra did appear today in New York City. I got a moment to catch up with him and ask him if he does agree with the president. He said that the president is correct. But he also elaborated a little more. Listen to what he had to say.

XAVIER BECERRA: The president is talking about how we all have to continue to do our part to make sure that we're all safe and protected. He's made it clear that Americans are still dying in the hundreds every day from COVID. And so we have to stay at this. The vaccines are most effective way for us to be protected. We have the therapies the treatments that you need in case you do get sick. We're making make sure people have the masks, the PPE that they need. It's on us to make sure we're rowing together. But because of all the work that's been done, we are certainly in a much better place than where we were before. But let's defeat COVID. And let's keep at it.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So as you can hear, really talking about all the stuff that we have at our disposal. The message from the administration has been we have the tools. I want to also point out New York City health commissioner did also mention that the end of the pandemic, or the emergency part of the pandemic, is where we are. And we're in a transitionary phase right now in understanding what this virus means to us.

Of course, we know that there are people who are vaccinated and boosted. And then we also have people who are just getting their first doses or not vaccinated at all. And so that's really where the struggle and the tug of war is in messaging for the administration.

- And switching gears, medical debt is hitting more Americans, according to a new study. So what's the latest there?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: That's right. A new study out from JAMA, which is a Journal of Medical-- I forget the full form. Basically, a new study out pointing to the fact that households in America, one in five households, are experiencing medical debt. And they extrapolated beyond that, looking into what that means in terms of translating into what are known as the social determinants of health.

So worsening other lifestyle factors and contributing to worse health. The average is about $4,000, or more than $4,000, per household in medical debt. And that really is what we've been seeing over time is that struggle, especially lower income. They notice that the household numbers about 18%, but individual level is about 10% to 11% of those affected. The study ran from 2017 to 2019 and included as well a look at lower income individuals as well as those on Medicare and Medicaid, et cetera.

- Anjalee Khemlani, thanks so much for joining us.