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Surgeon General regrets mistrust created by reversing guidance early in the pandemic

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·3-min read

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Yahoo Finance that he regrets early misinformation about the novel coronavirus.

Adams told Yahoo Finance that if he could do it all over again, he’d better emphasize “the uncertainty of new and evolving infectious diseases.”

He and other top health officials have been harshly criticized for changing guidance on mask-wearing. Adams told Americans at the end of February not to wear masks as there was no proof at the time that they protected against COVID-19.

“Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” Adams tweeted.

Evidence soon emerged pointing to the opposite on wearing masks, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance in early April recommending face coverings.

The Trump administration’s move to clamp down on health officials’ public appearances in an attempt to quell growing fears about the pandemic only added to the public’s confusion.

Meanwhile, the virus was quickly spreading, and by the end of March, the U.S. had recorded more than 200,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths. Now, the U.S. has reported more than 24 million cases and nearly 400,000 deaths.

“In many cases, we believed that COVID would behave the same as its cousins have behaved in the past,” Adams told Yahoo Finance.

But as new information came out showing that the virus was turning into a serious threat, top health officials and the White House coronavirus task force changed course. But a distrustful public was slow to embrace the change.

“That caused us to make some statements early on, that were based on the science as we knew it at the time, but which also caused individuals to then feel like we weren't being honest with them when we had to change our recommendations,” Adams said.

The Surgeon General previously acknowledged the highly politicized environment made it harder.

“One of the most challenging things about this pandemic, from all sides, has been trying to get health information to the American people in the midst of the politics,” Adams told CNN.

A community-health mindset can go a long way, “through wearing a mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance, and getting vaccinated,” Adams said.

“When we do these things, we actually keep restaurants open, we keep businesses and schools open, we, in turn, are more prosperous individually and as societies. It really comes all back to we're all in this together.”

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