Surgeon General: US Shifting Into 'Mitigation Phase'; Communities Should Think About Canceling Large Gatherings

By Susan Jones | March 9, 2020 | 9:46am EDT
 US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams (Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)
US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams (Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

( - U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the coronavirus outbreak in the United States is spreading, "Absolutely," and as that happens, life may change for people in affected communities.

"Initially, we had a posture of containment, so that we could give people time to prepare for where we are right now," Adams said:

Now we're shifting into a mitigation phase, which means that we're helping communities understand, you're going to see more cases. Unfortunately, you're going to see more deaths.

But that doesn't mean that we should panic. It means that we should take the things that we know work for individuals to protect themselves and make sure everyone is doing those things, like washing your hands frequently, like covering your cough, like staying home if you're sick, and not being around people who are sick.

But it also means communities need to be thinking about things like, should we be canceling large gatherings? What are our telework policies? Should we be closing schools? And that's going to be different in Seattle than what it's going to be in Jackson, Mississippi.

But communities need to have that conversation and prepare for more cases, so that we can prevent more deaths.

Host Jake Tapper complained about "confusing information" coming from administration officials who insist that the virus has been contained, "when it has not been contained," Tapper said.

Adams responded that the messaging "is hard."

"But here's what I want the American people to know. From a public health point of view -- and I am a public health expert -- the first thing you want to try to do is contain the virus. And some parts of the country have contained it, meaning they're preventing spread into their communities in the first place."

Tapper noted that so far, there aren't enough test kits to determine how many people may have the virus:

"Well, what we do know is that if we had massive numbers of cases, we would be seeing more deaths," Adams said:

And so we actually feel pretty good that some parts of the country have contained it, just like when you look at the flu. And when we look at the flu tracker, some parts of the country are having much more severe flu seasons. Some are having very mild flu seasons.

The same thing for coronavirus. So, you want to first try to keep it out of your community. Once you know it's in your community, you want to take the steps to prevent spread within the community and to keep those most at risk safe.

And a very important point here, we now know more about who is at risk. Average age of death for people from coronavirus is 80. Average age of people who need medical attention is age 60.

We want people who are older people who have medical conditions to take steps to protect themselves, including avoiding crowded spaces, including thinking very carefully about whether or not now's the time to get on that cruise ship, and whether now's the time to take that long-haul flight.

For most people, you're going to be fine. But if you have medical conditions, or you're older, now's the time to rethink that.

Adams noted that in more than 80 percent of people infected, the symptoms are mild.


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