Transcript: Surgeon General Jerome Adams on "Face the Nation," July 12, 2020

Surgeon general "trying to correct" earlier mask guidance
Surgeon general "trying to correct" earlier m... 11:41

The following is a transcript of an interview with Surgeon General Jerome Adams that aired Sunday, July 12, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to the Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams. The doctor joins us this morning from Woolcottville, Indiana. Good morning to you.

U.S. SURGEON GENERAL DOCTOR JEROME ADAMS: Well, good morning, MARGARET. I wish I was here under different circumstances because, as you mentioned, case counts are going up in many localities and we are absolutely concerned about that. But there are two very important things that I just want the American people to know. Number one, we are in a very different place than what we were in February and March. We have an over 300 percent increase in available PPE and that's not to say mission accomplished, but we are in a better place. We have from Remdesivir, steroids, convalescent plasma. All which mean that if you actually get diagnosed with COVID, your chance of dying from it is significantly lower than what it was in--

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

DR. ADAMS: --in February and March. And that's important for the American people to know. The other really quick thing that I just want people to know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah, because I would like to get to some questions. 

DR. ADAMS: --the disease course is only about two- yes, absolutely. This is an important point, though. The disease course is about two weeks. So while we're seeing cases rise, we can see cases go down just as quickly if the American people will do the things that we know slow the spread of this disease, including wearing a face covering. Critically important--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes. 

DR. ADAMS: --for people to know, COVID stops with me. We have the power to turn this thing around. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. Let's start there then, because you are wearing a mask. You are clearly trying to make a point. At the beginning of April is when the administration started telling the public to wear masks. But just the last time you were with us here on FACE THE NATION, March 8th, you said this. Let's listen.

(BEGIN CLIP)

DR. ADAMS: Stay safe by washing your hands, by covering your cough, by staying home if you're sick. Masks do not work for the general public in preventing them from getting coronavirus. 

(END CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the week before that, you tweeted in all caps, "SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, STOP BUYING MASKS." You said they were not effective. Do you regret saying that?

DR. ADAMS: Well, it's important for people to understand that once upon a time, we prescribed cigarettes for asthmatics and leeches and cocaine and heroin for people as medical treatments. When we learned better, we do better and the WHO, the CDC--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying at that time you did not know because the CDC in February was looking at asymptomatic transmission of the virus? 

DR. ADAMS: We- we were looking at that but the CDC, the WHO and even in May there was a New England Journal of Medicine article that still disputed whether or not masks were effective. We've learned more about asymptomatic spread up to 50 percent of people who can spread this disease, spread it without having symptoms. And that's why the American people need to know that science is about giving the best recommendations you can--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes. 

DR. ADAMS: --and when you learn more, you change those recommendations. Our recommendations have changed. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

DR. ADAMS: Now, people of America, important to know you should wear a face covering.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we certainly do--

DR. ADAMS: When out in public. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we certainly do take that advice. But I think you have to acknowledge that this mixed messaging has created confusion and it has drawn into question some of the credibility of the administration. Are you certain--

DR. ADAMS: Well, and we're trying to correct that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that this wasn't just done because of a shortage of--

DR. ADAMS: --messaging MARGARET but it's very hard to do. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I'd like you to clarify it. Were you saying that then--

DR. ADAMS: Yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --because there just wasn't enough equipment? 

DR. ADAMS: I was saying that then because of everything we knew about coronaviruses before that point told us that people were not likely to spread when they were asymptomatic. So the science at the time suggested that there was not a high degree of asymptomatic spread. We learned more. There- there also was, as you mentioned, the very real concern about hording of PPE and- and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

DR. ADAMS: --people dressing up in trash bags of health care workers. That was a part of it. But the primary reason was because that's what the science said. And I want the American people to understand. We follow the science and when we learn more, our recommendations change. But it's hard when people are continuing to talk about things from three, four months ago. I've said consistently for the past three months ad nauseum on the Internet and in interviews, wear a face covering. It will help slow asymptomatic spread. It will help with reopened churches and schools--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

DR. ADAMS: And have prom next year and have football in the fall.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, which is why I think leveling with the public is important. When you- I want to also get to something very specific in terms of what the CDC has revealed this week, and that is in particular, Hispanics and Black Americans are three times more likely to get the virus.

DR. ADAMS: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They are twice as likely to die from it than Caucasians are. You said a few days ago that one of the reasons that you had questions about mandating masks is because you said in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, you worry about having a situation where you're giving people one more reason to arrest a Black man. To be very clear, are you saying that racism makes it too risky to mandate masks, and Black Americans, you are also prescribing for them wearing masks now?

DR. ADAMS: So to be very clear, I am not saying it makes it too risky. I'm saying that if we're going to have a mask mandate, we need to understand that works best at the local and state level along with education. We need people to understand why they're doing it. And we need people to understand how they benefit from it, because if we just try to mandate it, you have to have an enforcement mechanism. And we're in the midst of a moment when over-policing has caused many different individuals to- to be killed for- for very minor offenses. And that is an important consideration. As Surgeon General, I want people to understand why they should wear a face covering. And they're going to be more likely to do it. They're going to be more likely to do it willingly. And they're going to be more likely to do it when we're not watching, which is important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about where we are as a country right now. In Texas and Arizona there are reports of refrige- refrigerator trucks being ordered because morgues are about to be overwhelmed. The two senators from Texas are requesting a field hospital be set up because of concerns about overcrowding. This morning, the Republican head of the National Governors Association said there should have been a national testing strategy and now this thing is out of control. Does the administration have this under control?

DR. ADAMS: Well, what I will tell you is that we're in a very different place than what we were in February. We are much better able to respond. We've sent out 10 teams to the most problematic area and we have another nine going out this week to help with staffing, to help with testing. We do have a national testing strategy and we're working with states to give them all the supplies that they actually asked for. So again, please-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But as you-- as you  heard--

DR. ADAMS: Please don't mistake me for saying we're happy with where we are.  Please don't mistake me for saying we're happy with- with where we are. What I'm saying is that we are working with states to make sure we can respond to this incredibly contagious disease and part of that, again, is making sure we're slowing the spread--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

DR. ADAMS:-- by helping people understand the importance of wearing face coverings and good hand hygiene and staying home when they can.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood, but I think- you know, the administration has talked about this tension between reopening the economy and dealing with the virus, the- the pain that people felt and took to their pocketbooks on the east coast and the west of this country when they shut down the economy, they were told that was to mitigate the spread. They were told that was so people could get ready for another round of this virus. But right now, what we're hearing sounds like what we saw in April. Shortages of PPE, waiting times for test results. What happened and who's in charge of fixing that?

DR. ADAMS: Well, I think it's a little bit unfair to say that this is exactly what happened in March or April. Again, a 300% increase in personal protective equipment. We're doing a much better job of protecting the vulnerable. That's why you've seen the age of- of cases being diagnosed drop by over a decade and a half, a much lower fatality rate. We know more--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The CDC director said this week--

DR. ADAMS: --about the disease. People are living longer.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that more testing needs to be done. So the administration's--

DR. ADAMS: Well and we- and we're--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --health officials are acknowledging that.

DR. ADAMS: We- we are doing 600, 700,000 tests per day. And I will agree with you that in- in certain areas we do need to do more testing and that's why we have these strike teams, multidisciplinary teams of health experts going to the problem areas. The other thing to understand is if you look at Arizona, for instance, Arizona as a state is steady. But when you look at it at- at Phoenix area, Maricopa County, that's- that's increasing. The- these increases that you're hearing are very regional. And so we have a very targeted approach to make sure we're getting the resources to the people that need it the most so that, again, we don't see the fatality that we saw in March and April, which Tony Fauci, Dr. Redfield, myself, no one in the Task Force wants to see that. And we don't think we're going to see that because we're better prepared to respond. But it's got to be coupled with prevention. And I know I keep harping on that, but we have the power to slow the spread. I would ask you to share my PSA, #COVIDStopsWithMe on my website because together we can turn this thing around in just two to three weeks if everyone does their part, more studies coming out showing the effectiveness and face coverings.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sorry, two to three weeks for what exactly? 

DR. ADAMS: The disease course is about two to three weeks. So just as we've seen cases skyrocket, we can turn this thing around in two to three weeks if we can get a critical mass of people wearing face coverings, practicing at least six feet of social distancing, doing the things that we know are effective. And it's important for the American people to understand when we're talking about the fall,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

DR. ADAMS:  --we have the ability to turn that around very quickly if people will do the right thing.

MARGARET BRENNAN And I think everyone in America wants you to turn this around and wishes you the best of luck in doing that, but a lot of American parents are very worried- worried about sending their children back into classrooms in the middle of increasing cases in hotspots, in large parts of this country. The president said this week that the CDC guidelines on schools are very tough and expensive. They're asking schools to do very impractical things. The CDC guidelines say use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol, put up barriers between desks to have kids six feet apart. What part of this is too tough and too expensive?

DR. ADAMS: Well, thank you for that question. I have a 16, a 14 and a 10 year old and I want them back in school. We know that kids who are not in school are more likely to be obese, to misuses substances. There's less reporting of sexual abuse and of child abuse. There are real health implications to not being in school, but it has to be done safely--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, it's the how.

DR. ADAMS: And the CDC guidelines that are out talk about best case scenarios, and I'll give you a very specific example. They say that every kid should bring in their own lunch. So you asked for a specific example. We know that in some school districts and many school districts, over 50 percent of kids are eating lunch at school and don't have the ability to bring their own lunch. So that's one case where we need to work directly with local school districts and help them figure out, okay, if you can't do what is the gold standard, best case scenario, can you do something that's a compromise to safely reopen? That's what we're talking about when we talk about issuing new- new, more specific recommendations that we can look at school district by school district--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll get those this week?-- 

DR. ADAMS: --because not everyone can do the gold standard. Yeah, my understanding is the CDC will get those out,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

DR. ADAMS:-- and I know they're working with individual school districts. I actually am here--

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

DR. ADAMS:-- talking this morning with my-- with my sister in law, who is a principal at a local school here, and they've got a plan. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

DR. ADAMS: That's what's important for each district to have a plan to figure out how to do this safely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, and I think there's a lot of looking for a national plan. Doctor, we wish you well. Thank you very much for your insight today. We'll be back in one minute with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Don't go away.