The Slatest

Surgeon General: “This Is Going to Be the Hardest and the Saddest Week of Most Americans’ Lives”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks while flanked by President Donald Trump.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks at Friday’s briefing at the White House.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams issued a stark warning to Americans Sunday, calling on everyone in the country to get ready for what he characterized as a national catastrophe. “This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Adams said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”

Adams followed the lead of President Donald Trump, who had warned Americans Saturday that “there will be a lot of death” in the upcoming week. But Adams did also offer some words of encouragement that the situation will eventually get better and called on all Americans to do their part to keep infections as low as possible, saying everyone has the “power to change the trajectory of this epidemic.” Ultimately, as hard as this week is going to be, “there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days,” Adams said.

The surgeon general also went on NBC’s Meet the Press and called on governors who have yet to issue stay-at-home orders to at least put temporary restrictions in place to try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Just eight governors, all of whom are Republican, have so far not issued statewide stay-at-home orders for residents. “Ninety percent of Americans are doing their part, even in the states where they haven’t had a shelter-in-place,” he said. “But If you can’t give us 30 days, governors, give us a week, give us what you can so that we don’t overwhelm our health care systems over this next week, and then let’s reassess.” But Adams did not call for a national lockdown order as at least 8,400 died in the United States from COVID-19, which has infected some 310,000 people across the country.

The dire warnings and predictions mark a dramatic change in tone for Adams who a few weeks ago was suggesting to Americans that they should be more concerned about the flu than the coronavirus. And on Sunday, he still seemed to try to play it down a bit when Fox’s Chris Wallace confronted him about why he would not support a nationwide stay-at-home order. “More people will die even in the worst projections from cigarette smoking in this country than are going to die from coronavirus this year,” Adams said. Wallace pushed back on the comparison, noting that “opioids and cigarettes … are something that people decide to user or not to use.”

For more on the impact of the coronavirus, listen to Monday’s episode of What Next.