Surgeon General says he's 'optimistic' the coronavirus impact can be slowed if US keeps up social distancing for 30 days

Jerome Adams

Alex Brandon/AP

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks during a briefing on coronavirus in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Washington, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listens.

  • US Surgeon General Jerome Adams adopted a positive note Tuesday, saying he felt "a lot more optimistic" that the United States would emerge "stronger" from its battle with the coronavirus.
  • On Sunday, he said he expected the virus "to be our Pearl Harbor moment and our 9/11 moment, only it's not going to be localized, it's going to be happening all over the country."
  • Adams credited social distancing for his hopeful demeanor, stressing that Americans "have the power to change the trajectory of this epidemic if we come together like we have after past tragedies in this country."
  • He said that state-level officials are better equipped to enforce stay-at-home orders, but predicted that the country will be looking at a "different normal" even once restrictions are lifted. That's only likely to change once testing is more readily available, as well as a vaccine.
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US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Tuesday he's feeling "a lot more optimistic" about the coronavirus pandemic, believing there's "light at the end of this tunnel."

"I absolutely believe this is going to be an incredibly sad and an incredibly hard week for our country, but we've had tough times in this country before and we always come out stronger," Adams told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."Advertisement

Adams did, however, say he still believed "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" was imminent - comments he made to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." He painted an ominous picture about the United States' battle with the coronavirus.

"This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment and our 9/11 moment only it's not going to be localized, it's going to be happening all over the country," Adams told Wallace.

The US is not in the clear: More than 378,200 coronavirus cases and 11,800 deaths have been reported as of Tuesday.
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But, Adams said, people have the ability to change the trajectory of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US by maintaining social distance.

"The good news is that when you look at Italy, when you look at Spain, when you look at Washington and California, and even New York and New Jersey, they have truly started to flatten their curves," he said. "They've seen cases level off and start to come down, and that's what I want people to understand - that it's going to be a hard and tough week, but the American people have the power to change the trajectory of this epidemic if we come together like we have after past tragedies in this country."

Adams said recent data shows good signs

Adams also highlighted the latest data from states like California and Washington that have been "aggressively mitigating from the start."Advertisement

"Their public health officials should be applauded because they've given us the blueprint for how we should deal with this in the rest of the country," he said. "And I really do believe we will come in under those projections as long as we can continue to do our part for 30 days."

The projections Adams is referring to are from March 29, when the White House coronavirus task force estimated that the coronavirus could kill 100,000 to 24,000 people in the US. Without any mitigation efforts, like social distancing, the number of fatalities could be as high as 2 million.

"The most important thing for the American people now is to really focus on these 30-days-to-slow-the-spread guidelines because we have proof that they work," Adams said. "But we need you all to cooperate, we need you to continue doing your part. And most people actually are. Over 90% of the country is actually doing the right thing right now."Advertisement

The US has not enforced a national lockdown, with President Donald Trump leaving it to state authorities to issue piecemeal shelter-in-place orders.

As of Thursday, 38 US states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico had asked residents to only leave their homes only for essential services, like buying food and medicine. Some 297 million people, or about 90% of the US population, are following such containment measures. Many experts, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, say the restrictions should be nationwide, considering the US is dealing with the largest coronavirus outbreak on earth.

According to Adams, the federal government doesn't have "a good mechanism" to enforce stay-at-home orders - unlike state officials.Advertisement

"We're working with governors, talking with them every single day, working with states to give them the information they need to make the right choices," he said. "And that's really what this comes down to, it's got to happen at the community level."

Asked what the US might look like once the existing restrictions begin to be lifted, Adams, like Fauci, predicted a "different normal" than the nation's residents are accustomed to. That won't change until testing is ramped up and a vaccine is available, he said.

"But I want the American people to know that there is a light at the end of this tunnel," Adams added, "and we feel confident that if we keep doing the right thing for the rest of this month, that we can start to slowly reopen in some places."Advertisement

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