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'Every Chance That We Could Be Italy,' Warns US Surgeon General of Coronavirus Spread as Trump Downplays Threat

"Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really be aggressive and lower our mortality rates? Or do we want to go the direction of Italy?"

Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the United States, speaks at the Coronavirus Task Force Press Conference on March 9, 2020.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the United States, speaks at the Coronavirus Task Force Press Conference on March 9, 2020. (Photo: Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Monday "there's every chance" the trajectory of the coronavirus in the U.S. could mirror that of Italy—where COVID-19 infections have topped 24,000—unless urgent public health recommendations are heeded.

With the novel coronavirus so far infecting roughly 3,800 people and killing at least 68 in the U.S., "We are at a critical inflection point in this country," Adams told Fox News' "Fox & Friends."

Adams contrasted the responses taken by Italy and South Korea as cautionary tales. South has been praised for its rapid and extensive coronavirus testing rollout and ability to limit the death toll of the virus. Experts within Italy, the second most affected country after China, have urged other nations not to make that country's mistakes and wait on aggressive containment measures.

"We are where Italy was two weeks ago in terms of our numbers, and we have a choice to make as a nation," said Adams. "Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really be aggressive and lower our mortality rates? Or do we want to go the direction of Italy?"

"And when you look at the projections," Adams continued, there's every chance that we could be Italy but there's every hope that we will be South Korea if people actually listen, if people actually social distance, if people do the basic public health measures that we've all been talking about... such as washing your hands, such as covering your cough, and cleaning surfaces."

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Adams's comments came a day after President Donald Trump suggested the global pandemic was not so serious.

"Take it easy," the president said at a White House press briefing. "Just relax."

Trump said, despite evidence to the contrary, "There's no shortages," and added, "We’re doing great. It will all pass."

Speaking moments later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 task force, and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, struck a decidedly different tone.

"The worst is, yes, ahead for us," he said at the same press briefing. "It is how we respond to that challenge that’s going to determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be. "

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