The US death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 11 Wednesday as officials around the country urged local communities to think about ways to stop the virus from spreading. Two new deaths -- one in California's Placer County, and one in Washington state's King County -- were reported by health officials Wednesday. The California patient is the first in the United States to die of the disease outside Washington state. There are now at least 149 known coronavirus cases across 13 states, including 39 in Washington state and at least 33 in California.
Fox News Radio's Guy Benson sat down with Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General who said Immediate risk to general public in the United States is low and the best thing we could do to prevent from getting the virus is wash our hands!
GUY BENSON, FOX RADIO HOST: But we begin today by welcoming to "The Guy Benson Show," for the first time, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, who is the Surgeon General of the United States.
Doctor Adams, thanks for being here.
JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE U.S.: Thanks for having me, Guy, I appreciate it.
BENSON: So we have just gotten reports of the eleventh confirmed death in the United States due to coronavirus, including -- we saw the first death out in California. People are anxious, people are concerned about this. You've been out there tweeting and giving interviews.
One of your tweets -- I want to start here, was, seriously people, stop buying masks. Talking about these sort of surgical masks you see on airplanes and in public places. Why did you tweet that?
ADAMS: Well, Guy, again thanks for having me on, and my heart goes out to the families who've lost individuals due to coronavirus. If you'll just give me 20 seconds, I want folks to understand what we're talking about here.
The coronavirus or COVID-19 is a flu-like illness that was first detected in China and continues to expand across the globe. It's a new virus, there are many unknowns, and the truth is that we're expecting the situation will get worse and more Americans will become infected before it gets better.
But what I want people to know is that the immediate risk to the general public, to Americans here at home right now, remains low at this time.
So you asked about masks. Here is what I want Americans to know. There are things that you can do as individuals to keep you and your family safe, and there are things that you shouldn't do.
And one of the things that you can do -- the most effective thing you can do is wash your hands frequently -- and wash them correctly for 20 seconds. We tell people to sing the "Happy Birthday," song twice, and wash your hands with soap and water to make sure you're doing it effectively.
But one of the things that is not effective for the general public is wearing a mask. There are two general types of masks people think about or talk about -- surgical masks which are those loose fitting ones, and they're designed to protect the wearer -- to protect people from the wearer.
So again, if someone is sick we have them wear a surgical mask. I wear one in the operating room as an anesthesiologist, so that when I cough or sneeze, it's not infecting my patients. But it doesn't protect the wearer from a respiratory disease like coronavirus or flu.
The N95 masks, the ones that look like cones that people are wearing are designed specifically for healthcare providers. And I have to get fit (ph) tested every year to be able to wear one of those.
If you don't wear it right, you actually can increase your risk of becoming infected, because people tend to touch their faces and adjust them constantly. And you could actually expose yourself to an infectious disease.
And also when people buy those up they're not helping themselves, and they're hurting their communities, because then those masks aren't available for healthcare workers who need them to respond to infectious diseases in a healthcare setting.
BENSON: Yeah, so, the wash your hands message is delivered and received loud and clear. If I'm going to be washing my hands and singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice I will do so to myself just for the sake of everyone else in the room --
ADAMS: You can sing it out loud, Guy, there are other songs you can sing -- there is actually tweets going viral out there right now about other songs you can sing if you don't like "Happy Birthday."
BENSON: All right, so we can do sort of a fun spin on that advice, but the fundamental advice, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, is good advice.
I do want to drill down on something that you said, because I think some Americans might see a paradox, or at least be confused by the messaging here -- which is it's going to get worse, it is going to spread farther, it is not contained, but the risk remains low.
I understand that those things mean different things, right? That it's not necessarily mutually exclusive. But I think to a lot of people; when you hear those messages back to back, it's going to get worse but risk remains low, explain the tension there.
ADAMS: Well no -- and I appreciate you giving the opportunity there, because it's important that Americas put the risk into context. We're terrible as human beings about judging risk, 18,000 Americans have died from the flu so far this year in this country -- have died from the flu.
There are many more -- many more -- exponentially more people who have gotten the flu and been hospitalized by the flu, than have been exposed to coronavirus in this country right now.
There will be more people who die in the next two hours from motor vehicle accidents and from opioid overdoses, than have died from coronavirus so far in this country.
And we want folks to know that they should be cautious, they should be concerned, they should take precautions, but that the actual risk is related to your risk of exposure, and you are much more likely to be exposed to other threats in your environment, including flu, including a speeding driver, including smoking cigarettes, including sitting on your couch and dying of cardiovascular disease, than you are to die from exposure to the coronavirus right now.
BENSON: OK, all right. And by the way, just -- if you're just tuning in, at the top of the show, we're speaking with the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams. He's the vice admiral, that's his official role, Surgeon General his title.
But Dr. Adams, on this point about the severity of the illness in coronavirus -- again, there's a difficult line to walk here because you want to take it very seriously. It needs to be taken very seriously.
You do not want to diminish the number of people who have died and will die from this illness by saying, oh, well the fatality rate is only X -
BENSON: -- and in some cases people are expecting that it might be less than 1 percent in a country like the United States, because that's still real people, and that's a tragedy.
But is it accurate to say that for the average person who does contract coronavirus, if they are not elderly, if they are not already seriously sick in some other way, they are extremely overwhelmingly likely to survive it, and in fact, in many cases, it would just have the affects of basically a cold?
ADAMS: We tell folks that if you are healthy, if you are young and not frail, if you're in good shape, then we expect that even if you do get the coronavirus -- which again, is extremely unlikely, that you will have -- that it will be like a bad cold or like getting the flu.
The people who we see are most at risk of being hospitalized and dying from coronavirus around the world and in the U.S. are people who are medically frail, who have comorbidities like diabetes, or a history of lung disease or cardiovascular disease, and are people who are elderly.
And so again, important for folks to know, your risk of being exposed is low. If you are exposed, in most cases you will have a mild illness.
I -- I -- I hate to make comparisons like this, but our anticipation is that this will be equivalent to a bad flu season. And we've been through this before, it's important for Americans to know we survived H1N1 in 2009, we survived MERS and SARS.
And we know what we need to do to protect America from this becoming substantially worse. We will see more cases; unfortunately I do expect that there will be more deaths.
But again, there are things that Americans can do to protect themselves, and most of America is at low risk.
BENSON: OK, there has been a series of critiques out there about the government's response to this, having a bit of lead-time, right? We got a heads up about what was happening in China here in the U.S. And there's a "New York Times" headline from yesterday, "As coronavirus numbers rise, CDC testing comes under fire."
Sub-headline, "Federal health officials botch an initial diagnostic test and restricted widespread screening. Missteps may have raised the risks to Americans critics say."
Dr. Adams, can you address these concerns that people are raising about the testing regime in this country? When will the U.S. government be able to ramp up to more widespread testing, and when will we know about those mitigation efforts?
ADAMS: Great question, Guy, and a fair question. And what I would say to folks is that, number one, this is a new situation. We are learning as we go along.
When we look in the past, we learned lessons from H1N1, and SARS and MERS. And we -- we reassess at the end of the day and try to make sure we'll do better next time. And there is no doubt that when we look back at our response to this situation, there will be lessons learned.
But, right now we want folks to know what we're doing moving forward to protect them. And I'll tell you, I was in Connecticut yesterday, at the State Public Health Laboratory, to make sure they were getting what they needed.
And there are 46 state laboratories out there right now who are prepared to do coronovirus testing and are actively doing them. Connecticut did two tests this past weekend and said they have the capacity to do many, many more.
The CDC, in addition to those 46 labs, has substantially increased our capacity. We have 2,500 test kits that have gone out across the country.
And we certainly are dedicated. I will tell you, I'm on the task force, and I've heard the president, the vice president and Secretary Azar make it clear at the beginning of every meeting and at the end of every meeting, hey, we need to see progress in getting more testing out to America.
And each and every day, each and every hour of the day, there is more and more being done to make sure that testing is available.
The other important thing for folks to know is that we increased the -- the eligibility of folks to be able to get tested. Now, any clinician who says, I want my patient tested for coronavirus, can get their patient tested, where as before it was only people who traveled to affected areas or people who had been exposed to someone with coronavirus. So -
BENSON: So, it sounds -- Doctor, just to jump in, it sounds like you're saying the capacity has increased and maybe we're playing catch-up there, which as you said, a fair critique, but where are -- where do we stand? Can you give us a timeline in terms of testing at scale, being universally available?
ADAMS: I would refer to you the CDC for timelines and -- and just to be honest, in these responses, things are rapidly moving, they're rapidly evolving, but the important message that I want Americans to get, is that capacity has increased substantially and that eligibility has increased substantially.
And that we expect that -- that in a very short amount of time, and I mean within days to weeks, to just a few weeks that -- that people will be able to get very rapid turnaround.
In Connecticut, like I said, they had more capacity than they had tests coming in, so I can tell you from first hand knowledge in that state, there is no backlog --
BENSON: OK, so it's ramping up, at least certain places. We only have a few minutes left. I just want get this last question in. And it goes to people's reactions. You made the point about masks, and why it's unhelpful for people to buy masks.
On a similar front, people are putting together pandemic pantries, is what they're calling it, with water and food and hand sanitizer and that sort of thing. Is that advisable? Is there a downside to that?
And what do you make of concerns about domestic travel? I know the president said it's still safe -- there are people worried about getting on airplanes.
Even discussions about movies being pushed back -- the theatrical releases and sports games potentially being played in front of empty stadiums and arenas.
Is that an overreaction, or is that something we might need to think about on the horizon?
ADAMS: Two great questions to finish on. Number one I would say there's a difference between being prepared and hoarding. And we always tell folks, if you live in a flood zone make sure you have a certain amount of supplies, make sure you have your prescriptions filled when you know it's the rainy season.
If you live in a hurricane or a tornado prone area -- if you live in an earthquake area, make sure you have basic supplies available to last a few days if you can't get out quickly to be able to get the things that you need.
So that is appropriate. What's not appropriate is going out and buying up everything in the store so that it's not available for other people to respond too. So that's number one.
Travel, I get that question a lot. I've got three young kids, and we've got a spring break trip planned. And I'll tell you that right now we haven't pulled down our trip.
There are certain areas of the planet where we are advising people not to go to -- Iran, still China, Korea, and northern Italy. But beyond that, we're telling folks just take the normal precautions that we tell you to take every flu season.
Wash your hands frequently, stay away from people who look like they're sick. But there's no reason right now for people to stop going about their daily lives in the way that they did. We just want them to be more cautious as they proceed.
Now you asked about sporting events, large gatherings. I just spoke to the National Latino Coalition, a group of business leaders, and said to them, you need to be thinking about your response plans, and they should have had these plans in place. Many businesses do, and should, for any number of contingencies.
Again, whether or not there is an earthquake, or a hurricane, or a flood, or a pandemic response. And they need to be thinking about, should we let our folks telework, should we cancel conferences, should we decrease social gatherings.
To finish, the National Evangelical Conference is in town, and I just spoke with several leaders from there, and they're looking at taking steps potentially in the future to limit social contact. So maybe you cancel that church barbeque.
The Catholic Church we know is no longer having people --
ADAMS: -- hands (ph) in holy water. So yes, there are things that people should be thinking about, but right now risk is low and just take simple public health precautions.
BENSON: Yes, and don't overreact. And we see there is a vote upcoming on an $8 billion Congressional appropriation on this very issue to fight coronavirus. We will keep an eye on that vote on Capitol Hill.
Vice Admiral Jerome Adams is the U.S. Surgeon General, my guest on "The Guy Benson Show." Dr. Adams, thank you for your time.
ADAMS: Thanks for having me, Guy, I appreciate it.
BENSON: You bet.