The COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. is getting worse by nearly every metric. On Friday alone, there were more than 184,000 new confirmed cases and 1,400 deaths, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported. Hospitals are reaching capacity. To date in the U.S., there have been more than 10 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 240,000 have died — more than any other nation.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams says "pandemic fatigue" is largely to blame. People are tired and aren't taking mitigation measures as seriously as before, he says.
"The virus hit different places of the country at different points," Adams, who is also a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, tells NPR's All Things Considered. "And so you've had people who've been doing these things since February, March, April, but they didn't really start to see the wave until later on. And they're just plain tired."
As the winter months and holidays approach, people can be tempted to escape the cold and spend time indoors with friends and family. Adams is encouraging people to have a virtual dinner or celebrate Thanksgiving only with other people who live in their household.
"The three W's are most important if you do come together around other people: wear a mask, wash your hands and frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces, and watch your distance from other people," Adams says. "And if you can't do these things in this environment where you're planning on coming together, then you should probably stay home because, again, this virus is incredibly unforgiving."
Despite the national case spike, President Trump said Friday he won't endorse any new lockdown measures while he's in office.
And the White House Coronavirus Task Force reportedly still meets once a week, but no longer holds the daily briefings that it did in the spring.
Adams says it's because the task force is shifting its attention toward regional outreach instead of national briefings for its messaging efforts, as cases go up aggressively in states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming and Wisconsin. He says they are going to states to give guidance "on the ground."
"Because people in North Dakota or people in Arkansas or people in California may not feel that they have to take the same measures as someone in New York City," Adams says. "So I've been in South Dakota. I've been in Wisconsin. I've been in Ohio just over the past two weeks, really speaking directly to people, helping them understand their surges that are going on and the measures that they need to take at their state level."
While the Trump administration's days are waning, Trump has still refused to concede and administration health officials have not started working with President-elect Biden's team on coronavirus response.
Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at Harvard University who is part of the Biden coronavirus advisory group, told NPR on Friday that they have been "denied access to the agencies and to actually starting formally a transition with the Trump administration." He said knowing more information now, weeks before Biden's inauguration, "can make a big difference."
"We do not have access to talking to the agencies, to Dr. Fauci, to people who have information about what the status is of mask supplies and glove supplies, what the threat assessments are, what the distribution plans for vaccines are," Gawande said. "That will be important and very much in the national interest to be able to work together on that."
Adams denies that is the case and says the task force is "sharing information with everyone."
"There is no information that we have that we don't share with the American public in general, and that is not available to the Biden task force," Adams says. "And so I'm here and I'm willing to talk to anybody at any point. And that's the most honest answer that I can give you, because I think we all need to have the information to make informed decisions and to really take measures to protect ourselves."
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is difficult news, but we feel it's necessary. We're going to start with a coronavirus pandemic because by nearly every metric, the crisis is getting worse. Yesterday, the U.S. recorded more than 184,000 new coronavirus cases, and the number of daily cases has topped more than 100,000 for the last few days, something we haven't seen before.
The nation's hospitals are feeling it. Across the country, the number of hospitalizations has nearly doubled in just the last two weeks. And there are now more people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals than at any other time during the pandemic. This, of course, is on top of the more than 240,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 - the most of any nation.
So as the winter months approach, and people are more likely to be spending time indoors, not to mention the beginning of preparations for the winter holidays, is there any way to keep things from getting worse? We've called Dr. Jerome Adams to talk about this. He's the surgeon general of the United States - the nation's doctor, as it were - and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Prior to that, he served as Indiana state health commissioner.
Dr. Adams, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
JEROME ADAMS: Thank you for having me. I wish it was under different circumstances. But the good news is that we are almost to the end of this.
MARTIN: What is your take, though, on why it's gotten this bad? I mean, particularly because we know more about the virus now than we did in the early days, and for months, public health experts like yourself have anticipated that this flu season might be especially bad, so one would think that we've had some time to prepare. Why has it gotten this bad?
ADAMS: Well, it really is as simple as just pandemic fatigue. The virus hit different places of the country at different points, and so you've had people who've been doing these things since February, March, April, but they didn't really start to see the wave until later on. And they're just plain tired.
MARTIN: Well, you know, earlier this week, the White House coronavirus task force, of which you're a member, as we said, warned states that there is a, quote, "continued accelerating community spread across the top half of the country, where temperatures have cooled and Americans have moved indoors" - end quote. Is the task force doing something right now to try to stem this other than giving the guidance that you have been giving all along?
ADAMS: Well, we really have a strategy of going out to these locations and talking to people face to face on the ground because people in North Dakota or people in Arkansas or people in California may not feel that they have to take the same measures as someone in New York City. So I've been in South Dakota. I've been in Wisconsin. I've been in Ohio just over the past two weeks, really speaking directly to people, helping them understand their surges that are going on and the measures that they need to take at their state level.
MARTIN: Yesterday, our colleague Ailsa Chang spoke with Dr. Atul Gawande. He is a member of President-elect Biden's COVID-19 advisory group. And he says the Trump administration has not been cooperating and sharing key information about the pandemic response. How do you respond to that?
ADAMS: There's none of us on this side - and I hate that you even have to put it that way - who want anything more than they get this virus under control. And we have always been willing to work with anyone to get it done. So I hope we can really move past this whole Biden task force, Trump task force and talk about...
MARTIN: Well, that would only...
ADAMS: ...What we need to do for the nation.
MARTIN: Forgive me, Dr. Adams - that would only be necessary if the people who are currently in positions of government authority would do what has traditionally been done during periods of transition, which is make office space available, communicate open lines of communication. That has traditionally been the responsibility of the party in power. So it would seem - so the question is really - it's a - really, it's a yes or no question - is the White House task force sharing information with the people who have been advising President-elect Biden?
ADAMS: Well, and what I would say to that is, yes, we are sharing information with everyone. There is no information that we have that we don't share with the American public in general and that is not available to the Biden task force. And so I'm here, and I'm willing to talk to anybody at any point. And that's the most honest answer that I can give you because I think we all need to have the information to make informed decisions to protect ourselves.
MARTIN: Thanksgiving is fast approaching.
MARTIN: People want to gather. What should they do?
ADAMS: The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household, period, point blank, end the story.
MARTIN: Which is kind of a bummer.
ADAMS: It is. But this year, the way you show your family that you love them, the way you show your friends you love them, is to prevent them from your potential asymptomatic spread. And one of the things you can do is to quarantine ahead of the holiday if you are planning to be around other people. Consider lower-risk activities such as a small dinner or virtual.
The three W's are most important if you do come together around other people - wear a mask, wash your hands and frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces, and watch your distance from other people. And if you can't do these things in this environment where you're planning on coming together, then you should probably stay home because, again, this virus is incredibly unforgiving.
MARTIN: And as we mentioned, this is flu season. Are there some things that people could keep in mind to distinguish between the common flu or typical flu symptoms and the coronavirus? Is there something that people should be thinking and - thinking about as we enter what is generally peak flu season, from now through February?
ADAMS: COVID seems to spread much more easily than the flu, and it causes much more serious illnesses in some people. So, again, take measures to prevent both - wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance. Get your flu shot this year. And the one symptom that I would alert people to that really differentiates flu from COVID is loss of taste or smell. If you get that symptom, then you need to be reaching out to your health provider right away and going in and getting a COVID test.
But if you have any symptoms that are suspicious for cold or flu, contact your health provider, and they will help you think through what the process is for differentiating between cold and flu. Do not try to self-diagnose.
MARTIN: That was Dr. Jerome Adams. He is the nation's doctor, the surgeon general of the United States and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Dr. Adams, thank you so much for your time and sharing your expertise with us. And we'll certainly keep a good thought for you and for the country.
ADAMS: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And again, just hang in there. We'll get through this together. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.