U.S. Coronavirus Outbreak 'Could Be Worse Than Italy' if Americans Don't Follow Guidelines, Surgeon General Warns

The surgeon general has warned that the U.S. could face a graver COVID-19 outbreak than Italy if people flout restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Jerome Adams told Fox News that he believed most people around the country were following instructions to stay at home if possible and struck a relatively optimistic tone that the number of hospitalizations was starting "to level off."

"I'm heartened by the people around the country who are doing the right thing," he told anchor Laura Ingraham.

"But we're still seeing far too many pictures of people out there doing the wrong things. Playing basketball, out on beaches. We need America to understand that we still could be like Italy. We could be worse than Italy if we don't participate in these 15 days to stop the spread," he added, referring to the recommended restrictions announced by President Donald Trump earlier this month.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks outside the White House on March 20, 2020. He has told Fox News people should not break coronavirus restrictions. JIM WATSON/Getty Images

The coronavirus death toll in the U.S. has climbed past 1,000, with more than 69,200 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With some projections that tens of thousands of ICU beds and ventilators may be soon required, Ingraham asked Adams if there would be enough medical personnel available to manage such a huge quantity of patients and equipment.

Adams replied, "You have best case scenarios and worst case scenarios, and we are not naive enough to assume the best-case scenario but we also have to understand that those worst-case scenarios are based on us doing absolutely nothing.

"That's why the president said 10 days ago that we need the whole nation to adopt these 15 days to 'stop the spread' initiatives and why he specifically reached out to New York, to Washington, to California, to the hot spots and said 'you all need to do even more.'"

"So those worst-case scenarios, we hope we don't get there, and it's why I have been telling people, we need to focus on both supply and demand, and the way we lower demand is by pulling down elective cases."

On whether it was realistic for the country to reopen by Easter as Trump has suggested, Adams said that it was important to remember that every place has a "different curve" and that "what the president, in my mind is doing is trying to help people understand that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. We will get through this."

"When you look at China, when you look at South Korea, their curve was about two to two and a half months," Adams said.

"So there is hope that if we continue to lead into the mitigation efforts and we're two-thirds of the way through this 15 days to stop the spread initiative, that we can flatten the curve and that we can get to the end of this more quickly."

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

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