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Coronavirus is going to 'hit every city in America': Harvard Global Health Institute Dir.

Dr. Ashish Jha, Harvard Global Health Institute Director joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to discuss how hospitals are dealing with the sharp spike in coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Also watching the latest headlines in regards to the actual case count regarding that global pandemic, as coronavirus cases continue to spread across the US. We just recently got an update from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo highlighting the fact that there are now 37,258 coronavirus cases in the state, as well as more than 5,000 people right now hospitalized with the virus.

There was only 30,000 just yesterday-- so quite another jump higher. For more on this, though, I want to bring on Dr. Ashish Jha. He is at Harvard Global Health Institute. He's the director there. And, Dr. Jha, thank you so much for rejoining us on the show. For starters, we're continuing to track the metrics, but just your first reaction to that, since New York has been one of the hardest hit states here. When we look at how they've ramped up testing, what do you make of the numbers we're getting now?

ASHISH JHA: Yes, so New York is really in the throes of this crisis. And what that means to me is that New York really needed to have gotten ahead of this several weeks ago. Whenever you see a spike like this, you're seeing the effect of the infections that happened two to three weeks ago, not the infections that happened last week. And so all of the very drastic measures that Governor Cuomo has put in, I wish we had done it a couple of weeks ago. It is now water under the bridge.

We've got to figure out how to get New York through this crisis. That means we all have to pull together. It also means there are a lot of other cities that are going to hit crisis in the upcoming days and weeks. And we've got to start preparing elsewhere outside of just New York.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, we heard that from Governor Cuomo in his many press events that he's been giving here-- the daily updates. He did make that warning to other states as well. How true would that be, though? Because he did say New York was kind of unique in the way that we interact-- obviously, population density is another factor there. New York City has its own problems right now regarding coronavirus breakouts right now. Is the potential the same for it to play out in the same exact way we saw in New York?

ASHISH JHA: You know, what I'll tell you is this-- coronavirus is going to hit every city in America. I think there's no question about it. There's no reason to think that New York is special. I think New York is going first. Will it be at the same ferocity? It may or may not in different cities. But there are lots of cities that are pretty dense, there are lots of cities with lots of people.

I'm incredibly worried about Louisiana, and specifically New Orleans. I'm very worried about Atlanta. There are cities in Florida. You know, look, if you overwhelm your hospitals by 300% or 200%-- I understand there is a difference-- they're both really bad. And so you're going to see a lot of cities where they are going to hit their capacity and get beyond their capacity.

It is worth noting New York may be worse than a lot of other places. New York also has a lot of resources that a lot of other cities don't-- a lot of doctors a lot of financial resources. So the idea that every city will be able to handle it as easily as New York is also not something we should assume.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well it's also the fact that, you know, we're one of those states that did get hit first. When you think about the timeline, we're seeing this play out. You can look at it, it's a strange phenomenon to see, because you can look at the numbers in China and look at the numbers in Italy and know what's coming, but it's moving in slow motion. And now you're looking at New York and maybe California, and then all those states in the middle, and what could happen there.

When you look at the data through all that, though, does it not make sense that the president's projecting opening businesses in Easter, or at Easter, because of what could come in some of these other municipalities across the country?

ASHISH JHA: You know, this is one of those things that, at some point years from now, somebody is going to have to sit back and kind of do the analysis of, you know, first it was China and everybody said, it's just China. Then it was China, Italy, and Western Europe, and people were like, it's just China, Italy, Western Europe. Now it's China, Italy, Western Europe, New York, and LA, and California-- people are saying, eh, it won't-- what?

No, this is a global pandemic. That's why we call it global. If you happen to live on this planet, it will hit you. It'll probably hit you pretty hard. We've got to assume that every place is going to be hit very hard, because that has been the experience today-- and plan for it. And this kind of denialism of it's somebody else not me is just stunning to watch, because everybody has fallen prey to that denialism.

ZACK GUZMAN: When we look at the timeline, though, I'd just be curious-- if not Easter, what do you think we should be looking at in terms of staying in lockdown mode?

ASHISH JHA: Yes. The way I've thought about it is it's less about the timeline and it's much more about what do we need to open up and where should we open up? Right, so here's how to think about it. When we have excellent testing capacity across the country, when we can be sampling cases, testing everybody who needs to be tested, and doing some population-level sampling-- when we have the infrastructure, it doesn't have to be months. It might be two weeks. I think it's hard to pull off in two weeks. It might be three, it might be four.

Then we can start letting communities where there aren't a lot of infections and not a lot of spread, relax. You have to monitor those communities. And it may be that a few communities where the infection rate is really high, you kind of keep them on lockdown for a little bit longer. I'm very comfortable with the idea that parts of America can open up and start getting back to work pretty quickly-- but when we know what parts it's safe to do it. The only way we're going to do that is through testing capacity. And we still haven't quite gotten to where we need to be on testing capacity.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Hey, doctor, it's Brian Cheung here. Quick question about the capacity for these hospitals-- we've heard anecdotes of a lot of these med schools graduating their students early so they can go and help out. When it comes to staffing, is it actually plausible that a lot of hospitals could be hiring-- looking for labor right now, amid all the concerns that we've seen with capacity?

ASHISH JHA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think hospitals I'm talking to in New York-- and actually hospitals getting ready in Boston and other big cities-- are absolutely hiring. The problem is they need very specific set of skills. They need some people generally to kind of help run the place, but they need ICU doctors. They need ICU nurses. They need, you know, other-- a respiratory therapist.

So those people are going to be in full demand. Obviously, a lot of people are losing their jobs that may not have those skills. And there may be ways of plugging them into the health care system. But right now, what we need in the short to medium run is skilled people who can take care of acutely ill people. We need that in New York, LA, Seattle, and big cities now. It's going to be necessary across the whole country in the upcoming weeks and months.

ZACK GUZMAN: All right, there you go. Harvard Global Health Institute director, Dr. Ashish Jha. Always love you coming on the show and sharing your analysis. Thanks so much for joining us again.

ASHISH JHA: Thank you.

ZACK GUZMAN: Appreciate it. Stay safe out there.