Surgeon General Jerome Adams spoke on Friday, in often-personal terms, about the increased risk for members of minority communities of contracting coronavirus. Individual states' and cities' data have shown disparities between the people who are dying in the epidemic.
"The chronic burden of medical ills is likely to make people of color, especially, less resilient to the ravages of COVID-19," said Adams during the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing.
Many people who are African American or Hispanic do not have jobs that allow them to work from home or to stay home while the government encourages social distancing, Adams said. He stressed, though, that there is no scientific basis to believe that people of color are "biologically or genetically predisposed to get COVID-19," but that they are "socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure, and have a higher incidence of the very diseases that put you at risk for severe complications of coronavirus."
Adams, a 45-year-old African American, showed reporters his inhaler, commenting that he's been carrying one around for 40 years "out of fear of having a fatal asthma attack."
"I more immediately share it so that everyone knows it doesn't matter if you look fit, if you look young, you are still at risk for getting and spreading and dying from coronavirus," he said.
Adams also said that it is important for people of color to adhere to the White House task forces list of guidelines, and encouraged people to avoid alcohol and drugs.
Further, the surgeon general encouraged people to check on their family members.
"Speaking of mothers, we need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela," said Adams, using the Spanish word for grandmother. "Do it for your granddaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop-pop."
Adams' comments about calling relatives sparked questions from NPR's Yamiche Alcindor, who said his words were creating controversy.
"I have a Puerto Rican father-in-law," he told her. "I have relatives who call their grandparents, Big Mama. That wasn't meant to be offensive. That's the language we use."
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