Health Equity and COVID-19: Advice for Businesses from the U.S. Surgeon General

Suzanne Clark, President of U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sits down for a one-on-one conversation with Surgeon General Jerome Adams about health equity and the COVID-19 pandemic.


Air Date: September 17, 2020

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General

Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General, oversees the operations of more than 6,000 uniformed health officers in more than 800 locations worldwide, and has been a leading voice in the healthcare community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark, Dr. Adams shares his insights on how we can move forward in our fight against the coronavirus together through greater health equity, preparation and community partnerships.

Dr. Adams Calls for Health Equity Amidst the Pandemic

Health equity occurs when everyone has equal access to resources such as information about illnesses like COVID, proper testing and affordable healthcare. According to Dr. Adams, the pandemic has laid bare many of the underlying inequities that have existed in our society.

"We're in the midst of a major social justice movement, but … you can't have social justice if you don't have health equity," Dr. Adams said.

For instance, the CDC reported that certain races and ethnicities have experienced higher COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and death rates when compared to white, non-Hispanic persons. This is because many of these communities do not have the same resources to reach their full health potential, making them more vulnerable to illnesses like COVID-19.

"We have to address these social conditions that then lead to the medical conditions that create these terrible health inequities," added Dr. Adams.

Encourage Healthy Habits and Sick Days to Prevent Workplace and Community COVID Spread

Rather than trying to get back to where we were before the pandemic hit, Dr. Adams thinks instead we should take what we have learned from COVID-19 and apply it to the flu and other diseases.

He recommended screening people during flu season, encouraging individuals who are experiencing symptoms or were exposed to someone with the flu to wear a mask, and allow professionals to stay home when sick (without the fear of losing their job). These are just a few of the many healthy habits we should be practicing each day.

"We don't want to go back to the old normal, because guess what? It costs every county across this country $2 million per year in lost productivity and other expenses due to the flu," Dr. Adams said.

Rather, he said, we must work together to embrace this new, healthier way of living.

Businesses Should Focus on Both Community Health and Economic Prosperity When Dealing With COVID-19

For most employers, healthcare is their No. 2 expense, said Dr. Adams — something that became painfully evident during the pandemic.

"We call this the U.S. health disadvantage: the fact that we pay more and get less for what we're paying than any other country," he said, adding that this inflicts costs on individuals, families, businesses and society as a whole.

"If businesses allow themselves to continue to be pitted against health or say that 'it's not my business to get into the business of promoting community health,' then we're not going to just see individual health suffer — we're going to see a business's bottom line suffer," Dr. Adams added.

Dr. Adams believes we can achieve "better health through better partnerships." For example, we can reach out to communities like law enforcement, who offer mental health care, or faith-based communities that provide things like food and clothing to those in need.

Experts Call for COVID Vaccination of Vulnerable and Frontline Workers First

A vaccine for COVID-19 is on the horizon, but mass-vaccination might not be a viable choice just yet. The goal for the vaccine is herd immunity, which occurs when a high percentage of a community is immune to a particular disease. This can be achieved through a vaccine.

Dr. Adams noted that the first COVID vaccinations will likely be given to vulnerable individuals and frontline workers.

"It's not so much about getting everyone vaccinated as it is getting the most vulnerable … and the people who are most likely to encounter disease or spread disease vaccinated so that we can break transmission," he said. "If we use that strategy, protecting the vulnerable and frontline workers first, then we will see an impact from this in short order."


Latest Video