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Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Jerome Adams

 The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

Read excerpts from the interview below

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Clemons: What do we need to do what do we need to think about and do as we reopen the economy? What practices do we need to institutionalize to live safely and to also work safely?

Adams: We need to make sure we're reopening in a way that is can data driven. That takes into account the assets and the deficits and challenges that take place in different communities. And I think that's one of the things that's hard for people to really wrap their heads around is just how big and how different the United States is. What you're going to do in Idaho is going to be very different than what you're going to do in New York. But I tell people, just as we have an epidemic of virus, we also have an epidemic of misinformation. So the most important thing for people to take away is to go to coronavirus.gov. Go to whitehouse.gov/openingamerica. ... Now to get more specific: From my perspective, I try to make things easily digestible. I talked about the two "S"s and the two "C"s. The two "S"s are surveillance and separation and the two "C"s are cleaning and coverage. It's important to know from a surveillance perspective what is going on in your community. And we’re working with states to make sure they have dashboards that show hospitalizations and show case counts and show who's dying and where, so people understand what the burden is in their communities because we know humans are more vigilant when the threat level is higher. ... Separation: We know the disease travels and lives by going person to person. So, the most important thing we can do it maintained 6 feet of physical distance between ourselves and others. From a cleaning point of view, we've got to be better than we've ever been about frequent and thorough hygiene and hand-washing, soap and water for 20 seconds. And then from a coverage perspective: If you go out in public, please, please wear a face covering to protect other people from the virus, who might be unknowingly spreading. And please cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue.

 

Clemons: How confident are you that we're getting all of the elements in place, including personal protective equipment, contact tracing and testing? That we're going to be able to reopen the economy responsibly?

Adams: We've learned a lot about this virus in the last several weeks. We've also increased capacity on a federal on a state and on a local level. Thank you to America for really doing your part and helping us flatten the curve. Remember, flattening the curve wasn't about saying we're going to get rid of the virus. The virus is going to be here for a while. Flattening the curve wasn't about saying that the virus is not going to be as contagious or as deadly. It was really about making sure we didn't overwhelm our health care capacity and that we continue to build up our health care capacity to respond. And most places across the country have successfully done that. But we still have to figure out how we live with the virus. And, so, we know now, again, more about spread and we have take precautions. ... We also know that hospitals have better personal protective equipment, have more ventilators, have more capability to be able to respond. And so, while we're not saying it is without risk to reopen — we certainly feel like we have more tools available at the local and at the state levels and at the federal level when you look at the national stockpile to be able to respond quickly if we see a resurgence and to not have as high of a peak as we had previously.

 

Clemons: What are those rosters of things that you think we need to stop looking at as boutique, silly things that other people do, that we're all going to have to become much more comfortable with, that we have to begin building in to our social interactions.

Adams: Well, everyone asks: "When are we going to get back to normal?" I think it's important for people to start wrapping their heads around the fact that we aren't going to go back to the way things were. And we really, quite frankly, shouldn't go back to the way things were. There are some silver linings to this and things that we've learned that will help us move forward in the future. For instance, things that protect you from COVID-19 also protect you from flu. And people forget that two years ago, we had a flu season that killed 80,000 people. And so, if we continue to practice good hygiene that will help us on help us prevent flu deaths in the future, even if we are able to overcome COVID-19. We also know that we saw a big decrease in many communities in vaccine confidence over the past several years. And that really concerns me. If we get a vaccine for COVID-19, it is still not going to help out if we don't get people to embrace it. I’m hopeful that as more people are talking about vaccinations that we're going to improve vaccine confidence. Telehealth — we've rapidly expanded access to telehealth services across the nation. ... And even little things, like staying in touch with people, virtually. There are family and friends that I haven't seeing in person in years and who I otherwise wouldn't talk to because culturally, we just think, wait until you see them in person. But that said, we've been in touch with them virtually now because COVID-19 has really increased people's utilization of Zoom of Skype of FaceTime with some of these technologies out there that can promote connectedness and togetherness and that ultimately has an impact on our mental health.

  

Clemons: How do we even out disparities with vulnerable communities and tell me about your community health and economic prosperity initiative?

Adams: My Community Health and Economic Prosperity initiative is all about making the case that we can't be successful as businesses, as communities, economically if we don't pay attention to poor health. We know that the number two expense for most companies out there is health care. And we know that the United States have some of the highest health care costs in the world, but we aren't getting value on our investment. We still see infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, obesity rates, hypertension rates that are well above the average in a bad way, despite spending more per capita on health care than anyone else in the world. And so my initiative is really ... about helping businesses and communities understand that when you ... invest in clean air laws and when you invest in things that we know give people the opportunity and the environment where they could more easily make healthy choices, that it benefits not just them individually, but it creates a healthier workforce. ... Unemployment numbers coming out today, showing again that when you have a health issue, it ultimately turns into an economic issue. ... We know that when we don't pay attention to these things, that the vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color, suffer disproportionately. And that's not just COVID-19 that has to do with flu, it has to do with cancer, with diabetes with heart disease. And my hope, my true hope from all this is that as we shine a light on these disparities, we can start to dig into some of these underlying causes of disease and really help people not just survive COVID, but help them survive in the long run from chronic diseases, from noncommunicable diseases like high blood pressure, like diabetes and like cancer.

 

Clemons: One of the issues that's begun to percolate out there is will that vaccine be able to reach those people who can't afford it? Are you confident that we're going to solve the cost problem and access problem once a vaccine is achieved?

Adams: Well, I can only speak for me, but to answer your question, yes. Based on my conversations with the task force and throughout HHS and with the secretary, I personally feel confident we will be able to solve the cost and price problem. This is an issue where again people have seen it is far too important — and I've worked for most of my life trying to help people understand why it's important to make the flu vaccine available to people at low or no cost. Because if a person gets the flu, it impacts not just them, but their family and their entire community. We see the same thing with COVID-19. We will not be able to reopen, even if we have a vaccine, if we don't have vaccine uptake. And I know there's a commitment on the part of the federal government and on the part of the business community to making sure vaccines are available for COVID-19 when they become developed at no cost or at extremely low cost. Now, reimbursement and cost is not the same of access. Access still has to be built on a foundation of trust. And so it's important that we make sure we're bringing in vulnerable communities, communities of color and involving them in these studies and also doing outreach to those communities right now to make sure if we do have a vaccine and even if it is free, that they'll come in and get it, or that they will actually take the vaccine.

  

Clemons: What do you want Americans to hear right now on what they can do on the mental health front?

Adams: These problems existed well before the virus came to our doorsteps. They just have been really amplified because of the virus. And what I say to people is that social distancing and physical distancing does not have to mean social disengagement. Again, there's new technologies, new opportunities for people to communicate in ways they never have before. There's really a focus on mental health and a destigmatization of mental health. I'm actually working with the NBA. And with the Prevents task force on veteran suicide prevention to really help people who have traditionally held a lot of stigma in regards to mental health. When you talk about athletes, when you talk about people in the military and to really help them understand that mental health is just as important and should be held in just as high regard as your physical health. And we're really seeing that start to gain some traction now with COVID. One of the things I’d say to people is if you find yourself struggling or just want someone to talk to, remember, you're not alone. There is a help line. Call (800)-273-8255 for free and for support.

 

Adams: And parents get your kids vaccinated. Critically important. We know that vaccination rates and in recent MMWR are trending down, but it's important to reach out to your physician. ... This time last year, we were fighting outbreaks of measles and we’re set up for them again after COVID-19. We want to make sure we're protecting our most vulnerable, particularly from diseases, for which there is a vaccine. Measles, whooping cough. Please, talk to your provider make an appointment. Figure out how to get your child vaccinated today.