U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Sunday deflected questions about his past advice to the public not to wear face masks as the coronavirus pandemic took off.
Adams tried to walk back his earlier remarks about face masks when asked whether he regretted them on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He rattled off a list of absurd health remedies from the past to explain himself.
“It’s important for people to understand that, once upon a time, we prescribed cigarettes for asthmatics ― and leeches and cocaine and heroin for people ― as medical treatments. When we learn better, we do better,” Adams said. He also doubled down on his skepticism about masks, arguing that recent studies dispute their effectiveness.
The United States is currently nearing 140,000 deaths due to coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. Adams is the senior-most public health official in the U.S., and President Donald Trump has frequently deployed him to tout the administration’s approach to coronavirus as cases, hospitalizations and deaths spike.
Adams in February admonished Americans not to purchase masks that he said should instead go to health care workers as the Trump administration struggled to distribute personal protective equipment to the country.
“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” he tweeted, adding that masks were “NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.” At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had already confirmed coronavirus could be spread by carriers who don’t show symptoms.
Contrary to Adams’s claim, there was no clear evidence that masks were ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus. Adams repeated the claim in an earlier appearance on “Face the Nation.”
“Masks do not work for the general public,” he told host Margaret Brennan. Adams suggested instead that Americans “stay safe by washing your hands, by covering your cough [and] by staying home if you’re sick.”
Trump has publicly dismissed advice to wear a face mask and was seen publicly donning a mask for the first time only this week.
Adams has heaped praise on Trump’s actions amid the pandemic. In an interview in March, the surgeon general dodged questions about U.S. coronavirus testing capability and praised Trump’s health.
“The president … sleeps less than I do, and he’s healthier than what I am,” the surgeon general said.
Adams was widely condemned for advising Black and Latino Americans in communities suffering from coronavirus to “avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs” to avoid spreading the disease.
Do it, “if not for yourself, then for your abuela, do it for your grandaddy, do it for your big mama, do it for your pop pop,” Adams said.
The CDC said “long-standing systemic health and social inequities” ― not alcohol, tobacco and drug use ― made these communities more susceptible to coronavirus.
Watch Jerome Adams on “Face the Nation.”
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