It didn’t take long for U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams to dip into personal responsibility talking points—and some other questionable rhetoric—in remarks given to the press today about the disproportionate impact the novel coronavirus has had on black communities and other communities of color.
Adams’ comments were shared by PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor on her Twitter account Friday afternoon. Adams told reporters more details would be “forthcoming” on the Trump administration’s plan to prevent further deaths from black and Latinx Americans; reports have shown they are dying at higher rates from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Despite talking about these statistics for the last few days—and experts warning about the potential for exactly this scenario for weeks—the administration still has no plan for addressing the disproportionate impact the virus has had on the black community. In fact, Adams appeared to make an appeal to black folks to “step up,” according to Alcindor.
“US Surgeon General Jerome Adams says black, Latino & other ppl of color should ‘avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs.’ ‘We need you to step up,’ he says,” Alcindor reported on Twitter, noting that some will find Adams’ language offensive.
She also noted that Adams had previously stressed that behavior was not the reason why more blacks people are dying from COVID-19. It’s unclear whether Adams got his signals crossed, went off-script, or simply lost his damn mind.
In a follow-up tweet, Alcindor noted that Adams “tells black people, Latinos, and other ppl of color to avoid alcohol and drugs and adds: ‘Do it for your abuela, do it for your grandaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop pop.’”
The comments are surprising for a number of reasons, including the fact that Adams was striking a very different tone earlier this week. Talking to BET earlier this week, Adams acknowledged that the health issues that have made black people so vulnerable to COVID-19 are systemic. He told the channel, “we’re addressing the social inequities that have occurred and that can cause poor health in our society.” Among the reasons he noted: less ability to social distance because of the work they do and the neighborhoods they live in, as well as higher rates of chronic disease—like asthma, diabetes, and lung disease—that can make COVID-19 more severe.
Recent reporting shows Native American communities have also been hit hard by the disease, and in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., Latinx residents face the highest coronavirus death rates (it should be noted that this number likely includes a substantial number of black people, since the city is home to so many Afro-Latinx).
Systemic problems require a suite of solutions, both large and small-scale. Experts who spoke to The Root in March suggested dedicated coronavirus hotlines, direct outreach and care sent to neighborhoods that are considered “medical deserts,” and reducing air pollution in the communities that already face high cancer and asthma rates (air pollution has been shown to make COVID-19 much more deadly—the Trump administration has continued to relax those industry pollution guidelines during the pandemic).
Those are the kinds of solutions the Trump administration needs to be talking about, ones that target the systemic problems that have actually made the virus so deadly in the black community. Not this putting down that can of beer for “big mama” nonsense.