Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday that the U.S. is now better prepared to reopen and has more tools to fight the virus than it did a few weeks ago, though he acknowledged reopening is not "without risk."
"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," Adams told The Hill's Steve Clemons during a virtual event.
Adams said the country is better prepared to reopen compared to a few weeks ago because hospitals have more protective equipment and ventilators; the public is practicing better safeguards like staying six feet apart, washing hands and wearing masks; and the shutdowns have helped slow the rate of infection to avoid overwhelming the health care system.
"Why are we in a better place to reopen and to open things now when we were closing things down just a few weeks to months ago?" Adams said at The Hill’s Advancing America’s Economy summit, sponsored by Wells Fargo and Siemens. "And what I would tell people is we've learned a lot about this virus in the last several weeks."
States across the country are in various stages of reopening, with public health officials on guard for future spikes in cases.
Adams stressed that the stay-at-home orders were not intended to completely eliminate the virus, but rather were "really about making sure we didn't overwhelm our health care capacity," something he said the country had largely been successful in achieving.
"We still have to figure out how we live with the virus," he said. "We know now more about spread and we can take precautions."
As for a coming vaccine, Adams said he was speaking for himself, but expressed confidence that it would be affordable.
“We will not be able to reopen, even if we have a vaccine, if we don’t have vaccine uptake. So 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,” he said.
Some changes in response to the virus could lead to positive outcomes, Adams added.
He said he hopes the attention around the coronavirus vaccine helps build confidence in vaccines overall.
And as doctors offices have allowed virtual visits through telehealth during the stay-at-home orders, the expansion of telehealth could have a lasting impact, Adams said.
“That’s something that I hope doesn’t go away,” he said.