Jim Hartman: Surgeon General not afraid to follow science
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the most trusted voice in the United States on the coronavirus. Since 1984, Fauci, 79, has served six presidents as the U.S. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s frank, understandable, and separates fact from fiction. On March 29, Fauci stunned the nation with his estimate of 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths from COVID-19, even with “full mitigation” efforts.
Fauci’s sobering conclusion was echoed by Dr. Deborah Birx, another respected medical specialist in global health. Birx serves as Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the United States, also has emerged as an important messenger concerning COVID-19. Adams, 45, is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service and lead spokesperson on public heath in the federal government.
He was appointed by President Trump as Surgeon General in June 2017. Adams is a licensed anesthesiologist and a vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. Prior to becoming Surgeon General, he served from 2014-2017 as Indiana Health Commissioner, appointed by then-governor, now Vice President Mike Pence.
Adams “grew up poor” on a farm, graduated from the University of Maryland (Baltimore) on scholarships, attended Indiana University Medical School and received a Master of Public Health degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
The Surgeon General has taken a lead in the mitigation campaign against the spread of coronavirus. He has reiterated an urgent call for Americans to stay at home, avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and discretionary travel — shopping trips and social visits. Adams has called out people going to beaches, playing basketball and group gatherings at recreational sites.
Adams’ warnings seem prescient. He urged hospitals to cancel all nonessential procedures to focus on COVID-19. Industry leaders privately called him alarmist, but hospital groups agreed to scale back services.
He has also used his platform to call for blood donations and offered instructions on handwashing (frequently — for 20 seconds—regular soap) and hammered home the need for extensive social distancing (6 feet apart).
On March 23, Adams sounded an early alarm for the American public. “This week is going to get bad,” he told an NBC “Today” audience. The Surgeon General signaled that the original 15-day period on COVID-19 presidential guidelines would be extended.
After internal debate, Adams later announced a CDC recommendation that people voluntarily wear cloth face coverings in public settings to reduce transmission. He likened the crisis to our “Pearl Harbor or 9/11 moment.”
The Surgeon General also warned the nation could be at a higher risk of worse health consequences from COVID-19 due to increased use of vaping products containing either nicotine or marijuana. Adams said COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape, due to its serious impact on the lungs of those it infects.
He noted that consumption of marijuana in any form negatively affects a user’s immune system, making them less capable of fighting off and recovering from COVID-19.
Earlier, Adams had been outspoken in his warnings about health concerns in states like California and Nevada that have legalized marijuana. He told a U.C. Davis medical student audience last June that states are going “way too far too fast” in legalizing the powerful marijuana strains being cultivated today.
“The youth attitudes about the dangers of marijuana are going in the wrong direction”, Adams told his audience. “I’m really concerned about the impact of marijuana usage on the developing brain, including the fetus.”
At the same time, he enlisted the help of physicians and doctors to normalize drug addiction as a disease. He advocates for treatment over incarceration.
A political independent, Surgeon General Adams isn’t afraid to go where the science points him.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa.