Focus on the Family Broadcast

An Update on the Coronavirus From the U.S. Surgeon General

An Update on the Coronavirus From the U.S. Surgeon General

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams shares his expert knowledge and insights on the latest aspects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Original Air Date: April 2, 2020

John Fuller: Welcome to Focus on the Family with your host Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and it’s our honor to have the top doctor in the country with us today as our guest, the U.S. Surgeon General.

Jim Daly: John, it really is a great honor to have Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General, with us on Focus on the Family. Especially as we head into some very difficult times with this coronavirus. Dr. Adams, thank you so much for being with us here on Focus on the Family.

Dr. Jerome Adams: I’m so glad to be here today. Thank you for this opportunity.

Jim: Experts are saying we’re still in the early stages of the outbreak which is sobering given it feels like it’s already been a long period of time. The President said on Tuesday this is going to be a very, very painful two weeks. He’s expecting, and I’m sure his task force is informing him, that we’re going to reach the peak probably in two to three weeks. Um, hopefully people are doing everything we can to flatten that curve. Let me lean into your expert opinion. Tell us how serious the situation is and where our focus should be in fighting the virus right now.

Dr. Adams: Well, the situation, quite frankly, is deadly serious. We’ve got projections showing that if we go on the current course, we’re going to lose between 100,000 and 200,000 people. But here’s what I want people to know: first important point is that those numbers don’t have to be our reality. Our book is not yet written and so we need to make sure we are doing the things that we know work. Social distancing. Keeping six feet away from each other. Teleworking if at all possible. Avoiding non-essential travel. So that we can lower that death rate and as few people as possible ultimately pass away due to – to this virus. I think that’s critically important for everyone to know and for everyone to realize that we aren’t going to solve this crisis from Washington, D.C. It’s going to be solved in communities with people coming together and supporting each other to do the right thing.

Jim: Yeah and it’s – it’s the thing we need to do. I don’t know – it’s something about the American spirit, that individualism, that, you know, even though I’m being told to do it this way, I’m just going to do it a different way. (Laughter) It works against us in this circumstance, doesn’t it?

Dr. Adams: It absolutely does and, you know, when you think about the Bible, one of the things we talk about often is the church. And we talk about the need to be around each other. We can’t do it alone. We can’t get through these difficult times alone. But there’s good news in the somber news that came out from the task force earlier this week. The good news is that when you look at Italy, they’ve hit their peak and they’re consistently coming down now. And Italy was in pretty dire straits for a while there. They still are, but they’re on their downward slope. Washington was able to stabilize their cases there and starting to see the hint of coming down. California leaned into mitigation early and they see their cases leveling off and hopefully starting to come down. And even New York is seeing their increase in cases and deaths slow in terms of acceleration. So, we know that if we really lean into this for about three to four weeks there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I want people to understand that. There is hope. There is – scientifically and from a faith perspective, there is reason to be hopeful.

Jim: Well, I so appreciate that. You know, it’s – not it a political context – but, man, we are praying for the leaders of this country. I know Jean and I are starting every morning that way. Praying for you specifically, for the President, of course, the Vice President. And I think when we step back, I – I want to express my appreciation, not my disgruntlement, because I think everybody is trying to do the best they can with the limitations that we have. You’re right there. You’re at ground zero. You’re seeing it every day. You’re in the meetings. Is it the spirit of everyone working on this to try their best to get it done?

Dr. Adams: Absolutely so. In the few times that you see me get frustrated when I’m in the media is when people are trying to clearly put a political spin on an issue or when there really is an apparent agenda or when people are attacking government institutions like the CDC and like the FDA. These are public servants who gave up jobs that could’ve paid a whole lot more money to serve their country. And everyone, I can assure you, is working hard to try to get to the other side of this. And we’re learning. We’re building the plane as we’re flying it. But people are doing their best and what I commit to the American people is that we will always try to give you the most accurate information we can when we have it and that we’re looking at the data literally minute by minute and trying to adjust as new data comes out about this novel disease.

Jim: Well, and what a wonderful way to look at everybody’s effort here and please, on behalf of the millions of Focus listeners – express that when you can and when it’s appropriate – how much we’re praying for people and – and thinking of all of you. Let me ask you this question. It’s been in the media. You’re a brother in Christ so I trust your opinion in this regard. This whole mask issue – what? I mean again, to me, kind of a silly controversy in this moment. But, just clear the air. What should the mask approach be?

Dr. Adams: Thank you so much for the opportunity to address that issue because it is confusing. There is nuance. And here’s what I want people to know. Originally the CDC, the World Health Organization and my office all recommended against the general public wearing masks because we looked at the totality of the data at that time and the data out there was not in favor of wearing masks as a way to protect yourself from getting coronavirus. That said, we’re finding that more and more people are spreading the disease before they know they have symptoms and so, we have asked the CDC to look at the data and to figuring out if we should be recommending more people wear masks when they’re out in public as a way of preventing themselves from spreading coronavirus to others.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Adams: But, important points here in terms of math. No. 1 if you are going to wear a facial covering, you need to wash your hands before you put it on and you need to try as hard as you can not to touch your face because there is some worry that people will touch their face more often and actually introduce virus to themselves. No. 2 you don’t need an N95 mask. Those are for professionals and if you don’t were them properly, they don’t really help. And you take that away from a healthcare professional who may need them in a time of shortage. And No. 3 even if you are wearing a mask that is not permission for you to then go out and hang out with your buddies. It does not substitute for social distancing. We want people to understand if you’re going to wear a mask only wear it when you absolutely need to go out. But we can’t have people saying, “Okay. I’m fine to go out and hang out in the streets with my buddies because I’m wearing a mask.”

Jim: Right. Thank you for that clarification. Let’s turn to the testing. More than a million Americans have been tested for coronavirus now. I think you’re up to a 100,000 a day being tested and that’s gonna grow, I would imagine.

Dr. Adams: That’s correct.

Jim: But what advancements have we, uh, made in the testing area. Who should get tested? And has consideration been given to random testing more people to better track and contain the virus?

Dr. Adams: Well, that’s another great topic. It’s important for people to know that the CDC stood up testing for, uh – for coronavirus in a week. That was a record.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Adams: They had trouble scaling up the test, but the Centers for Disease Control were designed and staffed to respond to outbreaks in particular areas not to respond to three hundred and thirty million people across the country who want a test. Never before in our history have we tried to administer a test to three hundred million people in just a few weeks in our country. When you asked about what’s happened, we’ve seen the commercial market come online and they are now – they helped us really accelerate to this point where we’re at over 100,000 tests per day and one of the game changers is that we have a couple of people, AVID in particular, who now have a rapid test that can be done in a doctor’s office, in a nursing home. Can be done in an array of environments and give an answer back in five minutes instead of, in some cases, five days. So that we can quickly react to that data. And this is what’s going to help us reopen our economy and our country because that day will come. We need to be able to test people quickly and be able to follow up on people who have coronavirus the way we do with people who have tuberculosis or measles and then isolate them. You’re going have underlining rates for a while, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to shelter-in-place if we feel confident that we can follow-up on those people and track them down. And when you ask about what does good testing look like – well, in South Korea they tested about 1 in 200 of their population in their initial testing search. So, surveillance still doesn’t mean everyone in the whole country gets a test. It means that enough people get a test that you feel comfortable about the rate in that community and that you can catch people who are showing symptoms. And if you look at a million tests right now and 100,000 per day within the next two weeks we should be in a place where we’ve tested about 1 in 200 Americans. And so, beyond that we’re just adding to our knowledge of our data so at the end of this 30 days the hope is that we will be able to with confidence say all over the country, “You are in a low risk area. You are in a high risk area.” And we have the tools to be able to follow up on people who are identified with coronavirus.

Jim: Well, and I guess that’s the question that, you know, those of us not in the medical profession wonder. So, the benefit of testing is what? So, we get to 1 in 200? What does that tell you as a medical professional? What instruction goes to the person that’s positive?

Dr. Adams: Well, there’s diagnostic testing and there’s surveillance testing. So, first of all, we want to make sure people who are at higher risk, people in nursing homes, people who are in hospitals or in ICUs, healthcare workers, anyone with symptoms, anyone who is older or with (unintelligible) can get prioritized for a test. That’s diagnostic testing. We think there may be something wrong with you. And then there is surveillance testing. And that’s where we talk about the 1 in 200 rate. And what that tells you is that, “Hey, I’ve testing a good proportion of this community and we aren’t seeing any or we aren’t seeing a high levels of coronavirus in this community, so we can, again, start to reopen.” Whereas in New York City when you do testing, you see a lot higher percentage of people testing positive and so, you can say with a little bit more confidence, “Hey, it’s not time for us to reopen yet. Or we need to be doing even more testing to make sure we’re finding those asymptomatic cases.” It really guides our public policy moving forward.

Jim: That’s great. Talking about the people who are getting sick – kind of demystify that for us. It’s been all over the map in the media that it strikes mostly the elderly, but then we hear the stories of the teenagers and 20 and 30-somethings that are getting sick as well. So, what’s – what’s the research showing right now? What does coronavirus attack?

Dr. Adams: Well, and this was a very difficult messaging situation and remains so. We don’t want to unnecessarily scare people, but we want them to have appropriate caution. And the fact is, coronavirus can effect anybody, but the data we have from the United States and from Italy suggests that there is a precipitous rise in your risk of complications including hospitalization, needing to be on a ventilator, and dying when you get older and if you have medical problems. So, in the United States we’re seeing a – a significantly increased proportion of younger people who are coming down with this and we don’t know why yet. We don’t know why. It could be because we know that America is not as healthy as we could, or should, be. And so, you have more people with chronic and underlying medical conditions in this country even at young ages. It could be because a quarter of our young people report that they have vaped in the last 30 days and so, if you’re inhaling something into your lungs which can cause damage or which can cause inflammation that in theory would make you more susceptible to a novel coronavirus. But, the most important thing for young people to remember – because many cases they’re going to feel invincible regardless – is that even if you don’t get sick you could be the one taking it home to your nana, to your pop pop, to you grandma, to your grandpa and the way we keep them safe is by everyone participating in these social distancing measures.

Jim: Well, and it’s certainly, hopefully, working. It looks like it’s working. Speak to the touching of surfaces. One doctor at the epicenter of the outbreak in New York said the virus is primarily spread through physical touch and prolonged exposure, maybe 30 minutes or more in a close area. How likely or unlikely is it to contract the virus from touching paper or surfaces or from being in the same room with an infected person?

Dr. Adams: Well, no offense to that doctor, but the fact is there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this virus and it depends on the circumstances in which you are living or working. And so, as an example, if you are a healthcare worker – I am an anesthesiologist. I’m much more likely to get coronavirus while I’m working on a patient who is coughing in my face than I am to get coronavirus from touching a surface because that’s just the environment that I’m in. So, we have to be careful about the – about generalizations. We do know that people can get it from a cough or a sneeze, particularly if you are within six feet of another person. We do know that the virus can live for a certain amount of time on hard surfaces and so, we tell people to frequently clean surfaces. Try to avoid touching your face as much as possible and wash your hands frequently. That’s how you break that surface route of transmission is by cleaning surfaces, by washing your hands, and then by not touching your face when you’re out in public as much as possible.

Jim: Right. You know, as the nation’s doctor – I mean, that’s how we refer to the Surgeon General, that’s your role. I mean, God knew this was going to happen and you were going to be sitting there. I can’t imagine your thoughts that, you know, for the most part that’s a behind the scenes role in a lot of ways, and all of a sudden, you’re front and center. I mean, this is – this is what it’s about – being the Surgeon General. What are that criteria as a medical professional now – guiding the President – what are the criteria that you’re looking for for people to get back to normal? If we’re ever able to get back to that. But what – what two or three things are you saying to the President, “This is what has to happen for us to be able to let people back at work” et cetera?

Dr. Adams: Great question. And it depends on where you are. If you’re in New York or Seattle or Detroit or New Orleans where you’re seeing a precipitous increase in cases, we are really looking at hospitalizations. We’re looking at deaths. We’re looking at new cases. We’re looking at being able to say, “We’ve flattened the curve” and that, “Our cases are coming down.” That is very important for those places to make sure their healthcare systems aren’t overwhelmed. That’s different than other parts of the country where you haven’t seen a big uptick in cases yet and in those communities, we want to make sure we have good testing, so we feel confident about the underlying rate in the community. And we want to make sure we have a public health infrastructure in place so that we can follow up on any positives and quickly isolate them before they spread it to the rest of the community. And that’s why the testing is so very important. We feel that by the time we get to the end of these 30 days – stop the spread – we will have enough testing that communities can say with confidence, “You are in a low-risk area and we are going to start to reopen.” And the other thing that we’re talking about is now you got more people producing cotton and cloth masks and there’s a potential that we can use an adjustment in our math recommendations for some people to help prevent them from transmitting disease and that could be part of our reopening plan also. But the criteria testing and public health infrastructure for follow up – again in most cities across the country – and flattening the curve in those cities hardest hit.

Jim: Well, I hope everybody hears that clearly and we all participate for the good of the – the culture. Let me turn a little corner. Just a couple of questions and then we’ll let you get back to everything you’re doing. And, more on a personal note actually, Dr. Adams. I know you have two teen sons and a daughter. Are you at home? Are you spending more time with your family?
Dr. Adams: Well, unfortunately, I’m not spending more time at home. They’re spending more time together. And there is – there is good and (laughter)…

Jim: (Laughter).

Dr. Adams: …And tough things about that.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Adams: You know, I really do think that God always has a plan and one of the things that’s interesting is with my family, even as Surgeon General, I would get frustrated at how much they were on screens. I would get frustrated at how detached they were from the world and how detached they were from interacting in ways with their family that I would want and would expect. And so, I think that, in some ways, this is an opportunity for us to really get back to that face-to-face interaction, that family contact. I think that’s critically important. I also think it’s important for people to understand that social distancing doesn’t mean social disengagement. You can still make an appointment to give blood. You still should check in on your neighbors and you can call, or you can ring the doorbell and stay six feet away. Make sure that older person, that grandma in your community who lives by herself, actually has groceries if she needs it and knows that someone loves and cares about her. Make sure you still get outside and get some vitamin D. You can go for a hike just as long as you stay six feet away from each other. And those are all things we’re trying to do with our family so that we don’t go stir crazy.

Jim: Now that’s really good – really good. I know for my boys – I’ve got two teen boys as well, 19 and 17. So, our college student – our 19-year-old – has come back a couple of weeks ago. So, we’re having fun just building models and doing other things to keep busy. Playing “horse” (laughter) outside. And, you know, I’m proud I to say I lost.

Dr. Adams: The things we used to do once upon a time.

Jim: What’s that?

Dr. Adams: I said the things we used to do once upon a time before everyone started walking around holding these devices in their hands and not looking up.

Jim: Well, it’s so true. And, you know, I appreciate that vulnerability. We’re in the same boat with teen boys. We’ve got the same issues that everybody else has and I’m glad that the Surgeon General does, too (laughter). Hey, let me on the last question here – just as a man of faith, you’ve referenced God a couple of times. How – from being a Christian before being a doctor, when you try to discern what’s happening here – the age old question of “God, why – why is this happening?” How are you translating that personally and even for people that might ask you?

Dr. Adams: Well, there are two things I think about and the first one is the first responders and the front-line workers who you and I prayed for before we started this interview. And I often think about the many places in the Bible where we’re told that God doesn’t put you where you’re going to be comfortable. God puts you where you need to be. It’s a very difficult situation that I am in and I have to remind myself of that and I often tell people, “The most powerful thing you can do for me is to pray for me to hear what He is trying tell me.” But the other thing I’d mention is 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” I think it’s important that people remember that because people are scared. People are anxious. They need to know that there is a larger plan, a Higher Power at work and amidst all of this tragedy there are some tremendous opportunities to come together with your family, to love more deeply, to – to do things that we haven’t made time to do in the past, and my hope is that we’ll be able to salvage some good out of this time that we’ve been given while we also work to minimize the harm and the tragedy that comes out of this.

Jim: It’s so true and it’s well said. Dr. Adams, one of the things that frustrated me recently was the New York Times saying something about evangelicals being the reason that we have the spread of the coronavirus. I actually couldn’t even understand what they were trying to say other than I think the bottom line was if you’re a Christian then you don’t believe in science. I know many, many people, you being one of them, that you can be both a deeply convicted scientist and be at the top of your vocation and see the wonder of what God has created and also be somebody that has faith in a Designer. Someone bigger than ourselves that put this all into motion. Many of us believe Jesus represents God in that way and we put our faith in Him. How do you respond to that almost just nasty tactic of trying to besmirch Christians in a time when the nation needs to come together.

Dr. Adams: Well, I’d say No. 1, I’m a Christian and I am a scientist and from my perspective it’s hard to look at all the glory of our planet and our universe and not believe that there is a Higher Power out there. I think it’s important for people to know that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive and I think at a time like this it is all the more important that we understand the importance of faith and understand that there is a Higher Power guiding our pathway and that we will get through this on the other side if we come together. So, I just want folks to understand that it’s important to lean on your faith right now and that we will get through this and that there is no disconnect between being a Christian and being a scientist or a doctor or a believer in medicine.

Jim: Well, I so appreciate that because I believe that as well. Actually, I’ve often said it’s amazing the faith that atheists have when you look at the evidence right in front of us. When you look at biology and what the design shows and the architecture of life. It takes a lot of faith to believe it came from mud (laughter). And you know, I just pray for those people that their eyes might be opened to something greater than mud…

Dr. Adams: Exactly.

Jim: …And I appreciate that so much, Dr. Adams. Surgeon General, I so appreciate you providing some time for us today at Focus on the Family. We will pray for you. Again, I want to ask every listener to put Surgeon General Adams on their prayer list. So, thank you again for being with us.

Dr. Adams: Thank you and again put the healthcare workers and the first responders on your prayer list, too, because they are out there risking their lives each and every day to keep us safe.

Jim: I so agree. God bless you.

Dr. Adams: God bless you, too.

Jim: Allow me to turn to you the listener. I mean, I am so proud of the programming that we’ve been able to bring to you. I mean, when I look back over the last couple of weeks we had Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health; Leader of the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell; Dr. Hager and Dr. Lile talking about the abortion issue; and now, Surgeon General Dr. Adams giving us an update about what the nation is facing as the Nation’s Doctor. I want to say thank you to you who help support the ministry. We’re able to do this and bring this informed and inspirational programming to you because of your support. So, thank you. I realize many of you are struggling in your businesses and if you’re a team member of a company I know you may have been laid off or furloughed for right now and we are sensitive to that. Believe me. If there’s anything we can do to help you, get a hold of us. Let us know. But we want you to know we’re here, we’re continuing to do ministry. Our counselors are on the phones. Our phone team is active. They’re all working from home. But they’re able to respond to the folks who are calling in. So, again, thank you for helping us. And if you can help us right now, we are so grateful to keep this ministry going and keep help coming to hurting families. I think I’m – I’m really impressed with the moment that we’re in in this way. One of our board members just yesterday on the phone – we had a board call – and he said, “This is the moment for Focus because families are together. This is why…” I believe he said, “…Focus on the Family was created to minister to families right now.” And you heard that even from Dr. Adams. The way his own family is responding. And it’s true for my family as well and I’m sure for yours. We’re together a lot more. We’re spending time together. Hopefully using the time to build fun relationships, but also to talk about serious stuff and I would encourage you to do that. You know, Focus – we’re trying to provide resources to help families achieve that. Adventures in Odyssey Club, this is a great way for grandparents and parents to get your kids off the electronics. Let them listen and use the theater of the mind to think about those things that raise the imagination. Adventures in Odyssey, the radio drama, is a perfect thing to do. We had about 30,000 subscribers to that about two weeks ago. And in the last two weeks we’ve provided a 30 day free trial. We’ve had over 65,000 people sign up for that offer. It’s our way of helping you out during this time of the coronavirus shut-in. So, if there are some things we can do – certainly go to the website. John, you’ll give those details in a moment. We’re here for you. We want to help you. And just let me say we’re praying for you, too. We’re in this together and again, thank you for equipping us to put on not only scientists at the top of their game, but these people who are committed to Christ unashamedly saying that God is their compass and I’m grateful to each of them and each of you.

John: Well, we’ll encourage you to get all of the information Jim just shared about. Stop by our website. See what Focus on the Family can do for your family during these difficult times. You can schedule a counseling consultation or, if you can, donate to help us continue to support families worldwide. Stop by or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Well, join us tomorrow as we close out the week with an encouraging message from Dr. Steve Farrar about how to ride out these difficult financial times no matter how you’re effected and put your faith in the Rock of Ages.


Steve Farrar: “And who of you, by being worried, can add a single hour to his life?” He’s asking me to think. This worry, does it …? You know what? This is a complete and utter, absolute waste of time and energy. This worry is a waste of time. I’ve got work to do and this is sapping my strength and sapping my energy. Lord Jesus, help me to trust You (Sound of smack of hand) right now.

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