Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General, speaks to members of the media after a television interview outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 20.
Al Drago/Bloomberg
Updated: April 6, 2020 9:29 AM EDT | Originally published: April 5, 2020 2:31 PM EDT

Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general, warned that a difficult week is ahead in an appearance on Fox News Sunday today.

“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” Adams told host Chris Wallace on Sunday.

Adams’ comments come after President Donald Trump said that the U.S. could be facing the “toughest week” of the pandemic on Saturday as the number of deaths from COVID-19 continues to rise. Experts say that the United States has yet to reach the apex of the coronavirus crisis—the point at which the rate of deaths and infections begins to fall—and that American hospitals are likely to struggle to provide care for the swelling number of critically ill patients.

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. Only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” Adams said.

Despite this warning, however, Adams defended the federal government’s decision not to issue a national stay-at-home order, arguing that the matter should best be left to the states to make those individual decisions. Adams compared the crisis to the impact of smoking habits, noting that states have different laws concerning smoking. Holding up a report he published on smoking cessation, he said that “More people will die, even in the worst projections, from cigarette smoking, than are going to die from coronavirus this year.”

“Diseases don’t respect state lines, but we live in a country where we have a system of federalism,” said Adams.

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Adams’ characterization of the threat posed by COVID-19 has changed markedly since the beginning of the outbreak. On Feb. 1, he tweeted a playful poem that said there was a greater risk of contracting the flu than COVID-19 — a comparison experts say minimizes the severity of COVID-19, which is believed to be far deadlier, and potentially puts the public at risk.

The Surgeon General’s office also urged the public to “STOP BUYING MASKS” in a Feb. 29 tweet, declaring that they are are “NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.” However, experts have argued that this type of statement has inaccurately suggested that masks are useless, and the Trump administration on Friday established recommendations that Americans don “non-medical” face coverings.

Correction, April 6

The original version of this story misstated the name of the anchor who hosted U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams. It was Chris Wallace, not Chris Matthews.

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