Surgeon General Jerome Adams says he meant no harm when he made comments directed at people of color during Friday’s White House COVID-19 briefing. In fact, he says he was trying to help.
Adams made headlines while addressing how coronavirus is disproportionately affecting African Americans and Latinos in several parts of the country. During his remarks, he urged people of color to take recommended precautions and “avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs” amid the global pandemic.
“Do it for your abuela, do it for your granddaddy, do it for your big mama, do it for your pop pop,” he said. “We need you to understand, especially in communities of color. We need you to step up and stop the spread so that we can protect those who are most vulnerable.”
In a matter of minutes, criticism poured in across social media, with some users calling his comments “racist.”
PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor was at the briefing and questioned Adams about his choice of words.
“There’s some people already online that are already offended by that language, and the idea that you said that behaviors might be leading to these high death rates… could you, I guess, have a response for people who might be offended by the language that you used?” Alcindor asked.
Adams, who is black and has Latino relatives, defended the comments. “I said granddaddy too,” he told her.
“I have a Puerto Rican brother-in-law. I call my granddaddy ‘granddaddy,'” he continued. “I have relatives who call their — their grandparents ‘big mama.’ So, that was not meant to be offensive. That is the language that we use and that I use. And we need to continue to target our outreach to those communities.”
He went on to urge people of color, particularly young people, to take the outbreak more seriously and ignore false information on social media claiming black people are immune to coronavirus because of melanin.
“It’s critically important that they understand it’s not just about them,” Adams said. “It’s not just about what you do, but you also are not helpless. We need to do our part at the federal level. We need people to do their parts at the state level.”
Earlier this week, local and federal health officials said people of color are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 than other racial groups in several metropolitan areas.
During Tuesday’s White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said African American communities have been hit hard by COVID-19, often because of preexisting medical conditions.
“We have known literally forever that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, particularly the African Americans,” Fauci said.
New data shows the virus is having a devastating effect on communities of color in Louisiana, Michigan, Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York City.
“Slightly more than 70 percent of all the deaths in Louisiana are of African Americans,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards stated Monday during his COVID-19 briefing.
Meanwhile, New York City released preliminary data on April 6, saying coronavirus is killing Latinos and African Americans at twice the rate of the city’s white residents.
The preliminary death rate for Hispanics in the city is about 22 people per 100,000. The rate for African Americans is 20 per 100,000; while the rate for white people is 10 per 100,000; and the rate for Asians in the city is 8 per 100,000.
Experts say underlying medical conditions; economic disparities; decreased access to health care; and people living in densely packed areas are all contributing factors for communities of color.
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