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During Tri-Counties visit, top federal social services official says COVID-19 is still first concern

Lance Orozco
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra meeting with people at Oxnard's Wilson Senior Center Wednesday.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra talks with KCLU News during Ventura County stop.

We’re in a Senior Center in Oxnard. In one room, about a dozen people are standing behind chairs, doing exercises.

One of the people trying the exercises clearly doesn’t fit. He’s wearing a business suit. It's one of the nation’s top social service leaders, U.S. Health And Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Becerra is visiting the Wilson Senior Center in Oxnard, where along with Oxnard mayor John Zaragosa, and Democratic Congresswoman Julia Brownley of Westlake Village, he met with more than a hundred seniors.

He took a few moments to talk to KCLU News. The federal Health and Human Services Secretary said while it’s dropped from the headlines, COVID-19 remains a huge focus for the agency.

"COVID is still upon us. Most of the folks who are dying...300 or 400 a day still...are people who are elderly." said Becerra.

Becerra said money for COVID related programs is a huge issue, with Congress failing to come up with a major new funding plan.

"We have been asking Congress to pass measures that give us supplemental funds to continue to work to fight COVID," said Becerra "The leadership in the House and Senate have not been successful in getting our Republican friends and colleagues to join us. The result is that we no longer have resources to keep the pace on COVID we had before. We're using what little money we have to try to stay ahead of it."

The Biden Cabinet official gives an example of what the lack of new COVID funding means. "Right now, you can go in and get a vaccine just about anywhere, and not have to pay. That will change, "said Becerra.

Becerra says another key issue is getting a handle on homelessness. He says spending some dollars now will save taxpayers down the road. The HHS Secretary said they’re hoping Congress will approve a plan which will allow the shifting of some Medicaid funding to help with the problem. He said if they can keep people housed, and fed properly, they stay healthy, and won't end up in the hospital, which is expensive for taxpayers.

When asked what his biggest health related concern is right now, he circled back to COVID.

"If I could just see Americans get vaccinated before the holidays, because I know you are going to want to hug and kiss your relatives, and you don't want to wear a mask," said Becerra. "Some of you are going to get sick...and the older your are...some of you will die. And, it needn't happen. We can prevent those deaths."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.