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U.S. Surgeon General: People Of Color 'Socially Predisposed' To Coronavirus Exposure

Surgeon General Jerome Adams shows his inhaler during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House at which he made a personal appeal to communities of color to follow federal guidelines.
Evan Vucci
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams again acknowledged in personal terms the increased risk for African Americans from the coronavirus, which appears to be infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately higher rate.

"I've been carrying around an inhaler in my pocket for 40 years, out of fear of having a fatal asthma attack," said Adams, who is 45, as he held his inhaler. "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."

Adams' remarks at Friday's coronavirus briefing come as available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and individual states and cities show stark racial disparities, a finding acknowledged by President Trump himself and multiple members of the White House task force.

"The chronic burden of medical ills is likely to make people of color, especially, less resilient to the ravages of COVID-19. And it is possibly, in fact, likely that the burden of social ills is likely contributing," Adams said, noting that many African Americans and Hispanics do not have the types of jobs that allow them to telework or remain at home.

Watch his remarks.

Adams said 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 also said that it was even more important for communities of color to adhere to the White House task force's guidance and cautioned that they should avoid alcohol and drugs. He also urged Americans to check in on family members.

"Speaking of mothers, we need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop-pop," he said.

Asked about his remarks later, Adams clarified that his guidance around avoiding alcohol and drugs was not just for communities of color, but for all Americans, particularly those at high risk and with co-morbidities.

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.