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HHS Secretary Alex Azar to visit Roswell Park, meet Buffalo business leaders

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar plans to visit Buffalo Thursday as Western New York moves into phase two of reopening. Azar has pushed strongly for more states to reopen in recent weeks and has sparred with several governors over safety guidelines.

Azar’s schedule includes a tour of the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center research lab, a roundtable discussion with local business leaders about President Donald Trump’s plans to reopen the American economy, and meeting with local healthcare workers.

Azar will also hold a press conference with local media at Roswell Park Thursday afternoon.

“Returning to normal isn’t about balancing health vs. the economy. It’s about balancing health vs. health: the health risks of covid-19 balanced against the health, social and economic costs of keeping Main Streets across the United States closed for business,” Azar wrote in a May 21 opinion column in The Washington Post. “It’s because we care about Americans’ health and well-being above all that we have to safely reopen our country.”

Azar is particularly concerned about the drop-off in preventative health services and sharp declines in hospital revenues from the cancellation of elective procedures during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the op-ed. The secretary has also accused the World Health Organization of failing in its response to the pandemic.

Michael Caputo, a Republican political strategist from East Aurora, was appointed as assistant secretary of public affairs at Azar’s department in April. About two weeks later, CNN unearthed and published now-deleted tweets by Caputo that made racist comments about Chinese people and accused Democrats of wanting COVID-19 to kill millions of Americans.

One of the deleted tweets from March 12 said, in part, “Sure, millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer…” and on March 17, Caputo tweeted “#ChineseVirus”—the phrase President Trump favored to describe the novel coronavirus—20 times in a row.

Another deleted tweet from March 8 said, “Coronavirus is the Democrats' new Russia, their new Ukraine. And nobody will believe them except their zombies. But know this: The Dems' strategy to defeat @realDonaldTrump requires 100s of thousands of American deaths. Will one of their nutjobs make it happen, a la Hodgkinson?”

The CNN investigation led to calls for Caputo to resign from his new post, which he declined to do. 

“I report to the President of the United States who creates controversy on Twitter to win every day, blowing the minds of the same hand wringing leftists who think my tweets are a problem,” Caputo told The Buffalo News about the controversy. “Have fun with this distraction, I’m working 24/7 leading communications for the nation’s front line cabinet department in a deadly pandemic. Tell my family I miss them.”

In 2016, Caputo was forced to resign from then-candidate Trump's presidential campaign over a tweet celebrating the firing of Trump's first campaign manager.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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