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Surgeon General Tells Newsy 'Fear Over Facts' Keeps Him Up At Night

As U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams is tasked with getting ahead of both the spread of the virus and the spread of misinformation.
Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 18:23:04-05

Dr. Jerome Adams is the U.S. surgeon General and a member of President Trump's coronavirus task force. As such, he's tasked with getting ahead of both the spread of the virus and the spread of misinformation.

Adams told Newsy: "What keeps me up at night about this situation is that panic will win out over preparedness and that, unfortunately, fear will win out over facts. When you look at infectious disease outbreaks, in many cases more people die from panic and fear than from the disease itself. How does that play out? Well it plays out with stigma. We've heard cases of people of Asian descent being discriminated against, being treated horribly in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak. People also do things like hoard. I put out a tweet this weekend telling people in the general public [saying] there is no advantage to you buying or wearing a mask, and as a matter of fact, it can be a disadvantage."

Adams served as Indiana health commissioner and oversaw a 2014 HIV outbreak in the state. In the aftermath, then-Gov. Mike Pence was criticized for having a slow reaction to the outbreak. 

"Yesterday, the vice president announced there would be more testing kits readily available, but there were issues with the first round from the CDC. As a former health commissioner, is that frustrating for you, that we weren't able to get that right the first time?"

"These responses are hard. They are difficult, and there are always going to be things that we could do better. When we are done with all of this and we've gotten over coronavirus, we will look back and say, 'What lessons can we learn from the response, both positively and negatively? And how can we refine our response moving forward?' The important thing for Americans to know right now is that 46 state health departments and the CDC can now do testing."

"We expect that within the next week there will be no inability for people to get tests done quickly throughout the country."

"Within the next week?"

"I think within the next week."

Adams agrees with most pharmaceutical developers that any sort of vaccine is still at least a year away. In the meantime, he offers this advice:

"What I want Americans to know is when we look back at past infectious disease outbreaks like this, they weren't ended with therapeutics or with vaccines. They ended with hand washing, they were ended with social distancing. They were ended with the basic public health and hygiene measures that keep us safe from the flu and the everyday cold and will also keep us safe from coronavirus."