American Medical Association President Patrice Harris called on governors who have not already implemented physical distancing in their states to do some immediately.
Speaking as part of a virtual address hosted by the National Press Club, Harris called on elected officials, the media, tech platforms and other institutions to more stringently follow and disseminate science-based information.
“In truth, the nation needs more—much more—from our leaders," Harris said. "The public is already making incredible sacrifices by acting on the evidence. All of us need to trust that our institutions are also keeping science at the fore of their decision-making."
Her address on Tuesday was aimed as a defense of science in the face of false information that seems to be spreading as quickly as the virus itself, Harris said.
"We have witnessed a concerning shift over the last several decades where policy decisions seem to be driven by ideology and politics instead of facts and evidence," Harris said. "The result is a growing mistrust in American institutions … in science … and in the counsel of leading experts whose lives are dedicated to the pursuit of evidence and reason."
Harris said the solutions for the pandemic, such as finding effective treatments or creating a vaccine, will take time and careful examination.
"In the meantime, we must exercise good judgment, believe what the science and evidence is telling us, and be flexible in changing our behavior as our knowledge improves," Harris said.
That includes following what may feel like simplistic guidelines like social distancing and adequate handwashing that is supported by evidence, she said.
She also cautioned against misinformation. For instance, some have falsely claimed African Americans are less likely to get COVID-19, have falsely said that children cannot contract COVID-19 and have wrongly claimed coronavirus will be a new way to force vaccinations on people who don't want them.
"We must ensure the war is against the virus and not against science," Harris said. "Believing these kinds of rumors and conspiracy theories inevitably leads to more illness, more suffering, more death. That’s why we all have a responsibility to seek out, and share, information only from credible sources."