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Surgeon general says U.S. can reverse coronavirus surge in a few weeks 'if everyone does their part'

Surgeon General Jerome AdamsJerome AdamsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread Health officials warn of post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 case surge Sunday shows - Health officials warn pandemic is 'going to get worse' MORE said Sunday that the U.S. can reverse course and control the latest outbreaks of the coronavirus in just a few weeks if people follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines to prevent the spread of the potentially fatal virus. 

“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 of face coverings,” Adams said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that the disease course is about two to three weeks. 

“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,” he said. “And it’s important for the American people to understand when we’re talking about the fall, we have the ability to turn this around very quickly if people will do the right thing.” 

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CBS’s Margaret Brennan asked Adams if he regrets comments he made in March urging Americans to stop buying masks, claiming then that they were not effective. 

“I was saying that then because everything we knew about coronaviruses before that point told us that people were not likely to spread when asymptomatic,” he said. 

“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,” he added. 

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He said the science now indicates that asymptomatic carriers can spread the virus and that masks are an effective tool to limit the spread. 

Federal guidelines recommend face coverings, but there has been no federal mandate requiring their use. Many states and local leaders have imposed orders requiring the use of face coverings in public. 

Adams said mandates requiring face coverings work best on the local and state levels, arguing a federal mandate could lead to issues with “overpolicing.” 

“We need people to understand why they're doing it, and we need people to understand how they benefit from it,” he said. “If we just try to mandate it, you have to have an enforcement mechanism, and we’re in the midst of a moment where overpolicing has caused many different individuals to be killed for very minor offenses. That is a very important consideration.” 

The U.S. has reported more than 3.2 million coronavirus cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the most of any country. Forty-three states have seen the number of coronavirus cases confirmed on an average day increase in the last two weeks.