"He goes off-script, which gets him in trouble, but his heart is in the right place," one former official told Politico

By Sean Neumann
April 21, 2020 05:12 PM
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Surgeon General Jerome Adams hasn’t appeared at the White House’s daily coronavirus updates since he faced some backlash for comments he made during the April 10 briefing, when he singled out minority communities with specific advice about how to “step up” to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Politico reported Monday that the White House has denied multiple requests for Adams to make “high-profile media appearances” in recent weeks, while the surgeon general only appeared once on television last week.

“He goes off-script, which gets him in trouble, but his heart is in the right place,” one former official told Politico, noting that Adams has stressed the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic along with Dr. Anthony Fauci and other federal health officials.

Some saw Adams’ advice to racial minority groups to “avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs” and to “do it for your abuela … for your big mama” as derogatory and condescending.

“We need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela,” Adams, 45, said on April 10.

“Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your big mama. Do it for your pop-pop,” he continued. “We need you to understand — especially in communities of color — we need you to step up and help stop the spread so that we can protect those who are most vulnerable.”

There has been some data suggesting the virus is killing black people at a disproportionate rate.

Later during the April 10 briefing, a PBS reporter asked Adams, who is black, about his comments and told him some people online had taken offense to what he had said.

“I used the language that is used in my family,” Adams responded, adding that he didn’t intend to offend.

Dr. Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert and key part of the federal government’s coronavirus task force, also backed up Adams’ comments during the briefing.

“I know Jerome personally, and I can just testify that he made no — not even a hint— of being offensive at all with that comment,” Fauci said. “I thought that was appropriate.”

That briefing was the last time Adams joined President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force on camera.

The White House and the surgeon general’s office did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams
| Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

A spokesperson for the National Medical Association, a “collective voice of African American physicians,” told Politico the organization recently teamed up with Adams on coronavirus efforts as well.

Adams was set to make several TV appearances again starting this week, according to a spokesperson for the surgeon general’s office who spoke with Politico. But questions had already stirred about his extended absence from the daily briefings.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat, criticized Adams’ comments during a recent appearance on The View.

“We only started talking about taking personal responsibility over contracting coronavirus when we started talking about black Americans contracting it at a higher rate,” she argued last week.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.