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Coronavirus now about three times as infectious as the flu: CDC Dir.

Assistant Professor in Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard Global Health Institute Dr. Tom Tsai joins Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith to discuss how and how quickly the coronavirus is spreading as cases in the U.S. topple 199,000 cases.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's get to the latest on the coronavirus-- the coronavirus cases worldwide continuing to climb at a staggering rate. Right now, we have more than 43,000 deaths around the world. Right here in the US, we have President Trump warning last night that the US could have up to 240,000 deaths by the end of the outbreak. For more on this, I want to bring in Dr. Tom Tsai of Harvard's Global health Institute.

And Dr. Tsai, I know you're extremely busy, so thanks for taking the time to join us this afternoon. I want to talk about the jump that we've seen in the number of cases. So yesterday alone, we saw the biggest jump ever in the total number of cases, at least here in the US. We talk about how contagious this disease is and how at-risk the entire US population and the world population is at this point. Is the virus more contagious than maybe we initially had thought it was?

TOM TSAI: Great to be here, Seana. I think as more data have come in, we've learned a lot more about, really, how serious a disease the coronavirus is and COVID-19 is. And what we're learning is that it is much more contagious than your common cold or your common influenza.

So as we learn more about how contagious it is, we are also realizing that a lot of patients are actually asymptomatic carriers. So they may be walking around harboring the coronavirus but not having any symptoms. That's why it's even more important to double down on social distancing and staying at home, washing the hands, as we learn that there is a quite large number of people who are asymptomatic who could be able to pass that to loved ones, or friends, or family.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Tsai, big question here is-- continues to be testing. And at this point, we have had multiple tests authorized by the FDA. And we know that no one test is perfect, and each of them have different trade-offs. And you're much better to talk about this than I am, but when the hospitals and health care workers are trying to determine which test is most appropriate for them to use, how is that being decided at this point?

TOM TSAI: Yeah, I think what's important instead of relying on our hopes or putting all our eggs in one basket is to have, rather, a comprehensive testing strategy. Certain of the tests may be better for using at the point of care. So in doctor's offices or a rapid screen, some tests-- including the newest one that was authorized by the FDA-- test for antibodies. So it tells you if you have either an active infection or are previously exposed to the coronavirus.

So all the different tests provide a different level or a level of specificity, and it has a different use. So I think it's important for the hospital, as well as the health care systems and public health agencies, to have comprehensive testing strategies that uses all the different tests, uh, appropriately. We can't put all our eggs in one basket. There simply aren't enough tests of each individual type to rely on that. So what we need is to use all those tools we have effectively.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Tsai, I want to talk about-- draw from your experience in terms of health policy. And it's interesting what we've seen from a state level, and then also from a federal level, or lack thereof, I guess, from the federal level. So a lot of states are implementing these stay-at-home measures. Some are more drastic than others.

It's interesting what we've seen start to play out in Florida, because right now the number of cases there are rising pretty dramatically over the last couple of days. But Florida's governor is still holding back, not issuing that statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order. When you talk about that from a health policy standpoint, I guess, do you expect the outcomes in a state like Florida, which doesn't take that strict measure, or stricter measures, as some of the other states around the world, like New York, that maybe their outcome will be slightly different than what we're seeing in places like New York?

TOM TSAI: Yes, I'm deeply concerned by this. A week and a half ago, you know, I was talking about, we still have a window of opportunity, and that window of opportunity is rapidly closing. And the earlier we act and the earlier that Florida and other states act early in the transmission curve to declare a statewide emergency and statewide stay-at-home declarations, the bigger the chance we have of actually decreasing community transmission. That window was maybe weeks, a few weeks ago, now we have days.

And I think it's imperative that Florida and other states-- and I think just last night, Texas also declared a statewide stay-at-home policy. So these are the states who are a very high risk for seeing a large outbreak because of their population densities, as well as clusters of active infections, and we have to act now.

- You were talking before about those who are asymptomatic, and I believe the latest data is that about 25% of people are not showing symptoms. So do you think that when-- this is what everyone's hoping for-- we're going to be allowed to go back to work we're going to be required to hold-- to wear masks, because we won't know who's asymptomatic and who's actually not?

TOM TSAI: Yeah, I think because of the realization that about 25% of individuals may be asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus, we need to think about, how do we continue not just our stay-at-home policies and hand washing, but think about wider strategies including wearing masks. But I think the most important thing is to not take our eyes off the ball. Right now, we've got to focus on the patients who are in the hospitals right now, the places that are running out of masks and respirators, places that are running out of ICU beds and hospital beds.

So we need to continue to test, we need to continue to take care of patients in the hospital, protect our health care workers, but also, on the society side, still focus on staying at home. The masks are helpful in terms of decreasing spread in the community. What's even better than wearing the masks outside is staying at home inside and decreasing the risk of transmission.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Tsai, what do you think about the situation right now with ventilators? Because it's been-- we've been hearing conflicting reports just in terms of what a hospital needs, how big the shortages are, whether enough is being done by companies out there just in terms of assisting with this effort. From your perspective, from what you're seeing at the hospitals these days, from talking to your colleagues, how big is the shortage at this point?

TOM TSAI: I think the story is going to be very local. And we can look at the top-line national numbers, the state numbers, but what really is going to matter is the individual hospital-- their number of ventilators and their crush of patients that are coming in.

And we're seeing this in New York, where hospitals are being completely overwhelmed. So I think the importance is on the-- for the states and for the federal government is to act policies on a national level. But we also have to realize that the context is extremely local, so the hospitals really have to take the initiative in generating excess capacity now.

This is no longer theoretical the way it was a few weeks ago. I mean, this is here, it is with us. The hospitals can't-- it's no longer planning for the future. It's about, how do we create the beds now for ICU level care and getting those ventilators? And that may mean purchasing more ventilators, getting additional stockpiles from the state, and then also making sure we bring extra ventilators on line, possibly from the operating rooms.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Dr. Tsai, thank you so much for joining us. And I also want to mention quickly that in Florida, Governor DeSantis in just the last hour is saying that he will issue an order there limiting Florida to essential services only for 30 days. He is expected to sign that order at some point today, and it is expected to go into effect tomorrow night-- Thursday night-- at midnight.