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CDC removes guidelines on COVID-19 aerosol spread: WSJ

Dr. Steven McDonald, New York City Emergency Medicine Physician, joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to break down the latest coronavirus developments as the CDC removes its guidelines on aerosol spread of the virus.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Shifting back, though, to the focus on the pandemic at hand, I want to highlight a few worrying numbers that we are hitting and exceeding here. Close to one million people across the globe have died from coronavirus around the world. It's a staggering toll when you think about it.

But here in the US, also looking poised to cross that 200,000 death tally in short order here. And daily cases, when you look at the virus pandemic measured here, moving in the wrong direction as well. Cases yesterday came in close to 35,000. That was more than 2,000 cases versus what we were seeing about a week ago and has a lot of people concerned, especially when you back up and look at what's happening in Europe here as more countries look closer and closer to shutting down as they exceed-- some case counts when you look at France and Spain-- than what we saw back in March when the pandemic really was getting kicked off in earnest here in terms of case counts.

And joining us now for more on all of that is our next guest. Dr. Steven McDonald is-- is an emergency medicine physician in New York City. And, Dr. McDonald, it's good to have you back here with us.

I want to start with something that is catching a lot of eyes today, and it has to do with a theme that we've been discussing on this show when it comes to wavering faith in the CDC. We heard from Bill Gates saying that it was becoming a problem, that politics might be seeping into that. And something caught a lot of eyes in terms of their website.

They backtracked and took down language that admitted that the coronavirus was able to be spread through tiny airborne droplets. They scrapped that language from their website saying that it was posted in error. But that is something that we've heard from scientists, urging the CDC to-- to admit that and say-- and a lot of people saying that the science does back that up. So what's your take there on why the agency might put that out and then take it back down if it's something that remains to be seen officially in terms of the spread?

DR. STEVEN MCDONALD: Sure. So first of all, it's a pleasure to be back. I want to emphasize here that, you know, science is a process, and so that means we're learning as we go. So I think this current situation with the CDC is both a mix of the fact that we're still learning about this disease.

It's still unclear how this is transmitted. At the same time, politics is interfering with normal scientific review processes. So it's very difficult to know sort of where this reversal in guidance came from.

I will say that the six feet that we've always been and trained to incorporate into our lives has always been a somewhat arbitrary guideline. It's possible to have transmission of droplets at 10 feet or at 3 feet. So six feet is sort of, like, a-- a rough guideline and should always be taken as such. I think it's ultimately good that we're understanding that this is also airborne transmitted. And that will have particular implications for lifestyle changes in the fall.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. At the very least, I mean, whether or not it was-- was posted in error or not, whether or not the science has shown that it actually is able to be spread in tiny droplets through the air, I mean, regardless, a lot of questions in terms of the functioning of the agency now today if that was posted before it was supposed to be signed off on. But I also want to ask you a little bit more about what we are seeing play out in Europe because cases there in Spain, France, the UK, wherever you look in Europe, things are not looking good, exceeding some of the case counts we saw back in March.

And obviously in the US, we were behind that way when it first happened back then. We kind of caught up to what was happening in Europe in short order. But even White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow admitted fear that Europe might have to return to shutdowns once again. So what are you making of it? I mean, is this the sign of things to come here in the US?

DR. STEVEN MCDONALD: So it's very difficult to say. I don't have a crystal ball. But I would say as we talk about reopening schools, as New York City talks about returning to indoor dining, then yes, we absolutely are looking at a potential second wave and another bump in coronavirus cases, and hospital admissions, and all the sequelae that come along with that, unfortunately.

ZACK GUZMAN: But, I mean, when we step back, obviously it's not just New York dealing with a return to school here. Across the country, we've seen that play out on college campuses. And just a very dire picture when you put together all of these cases and outbreaks happening at college campuses across the country.

You can even look at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls ordering students shelter in place, again, after a surge in cases. We saw UNC, what happened there in terms of sending students home. FSU's football coach announced that he tested positive. I mean, when you-- when you back up and put all these things together, what's your take right now on what's playing out on college campuses and how that could actually lead to an even worse situation if those students do eventually return home to spread some of these outbreaks back home?

DR. STEVEN MCDONALD: So, you know, we're really seeing what was determined "pandemic fatigue." People are really sick of the behavior restrictions that we all have to do to keep this virus in check. And so we're seeing that in schools and on college campuses. We're seeing it in Europe in-- over the summer vacations.

And the danger here, I think, is that, you know, these populations, specifically young people, are where the coronavirus is multiplying. And then it just takes a little bit of spillover from those young people and those young populations into older, more vulnerable populations. And then you start seeing death rates rise as well. And that's the real concern.

ZACK GUZMAN: The problem too, though, if-- if what you're saying is true and the spike in Europe is all attributable to virus fatigue, as it's called, we still have months until-- you look at the vaccine timeline here and the timeline laid out, from-- our government agency is saying that it could take until the back half of 2021 next year to actually get these out to people. I mean, you think about how bad winter's supposed to be. And then what could happen again next year when we start 2021, I mean, how bad could it get if the fatigue does last and worsen beyond just the holiday months ahead?

DR. STEVEN MCDONALD: So we have projections for death rates up to 400,000 by the new year. I also want to emphasize that death is not the only metric we should be looking at here. There are also the quote, unquote, "long-haul" COVID cases.

So I'm seeing increasing numbers of young people coming into the emergency room who just don't feel the same. They don't breathe right anymore. They're having all sorts of difficult chest pain.

And this is all since contracting coronavirus. So there also is another sort of medical weight other than death here. In any case, the way forward, you know, we've gotta wear masks.

We've gotta do our best we can. And I want to emphasize that the way forward economically is not necessarily at odds with the way forward medically. If we do our job and participate in limiting the spread of this thing, people will be more sort of confident in their ability to go outside and spend money and stimulate the economy.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. An important reminder there when you think about how effective masks actually are at doing just that. And what we're waiting for on the vaccine front could still be accomplished if close to 90%, 95%, 98% of Americans just for their masks as well.

All important to keep in mind here while we stay on top of the situation. But I appreciate you, again, taking the time. Dr. Steven McDonald, thanks again.