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Doctor on COVID-19 cases: ‘The numbers are very hopeful at the moment’

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Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Steven McDonald joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest with COVID-19 as total U.S. cases rise above 27 million.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: I want to shift our attention back over to the pandemic front here, though. As I said off the top of the show, we have seen daily cases in the nation down to just around 80,000 a day. It's a steep drop from the 300,000 we saw just a few weeks ago. That's the good news, as vaccines are taking longer to get into the arms of Americans.

So for more on where we sit, I want to bring on Dr. Steven McDonald, an emergency medicine physician in New York City with us today. And Dr. McDonald, I mean, we've talked about kind of this pro-con of where we're moving. But when you look at the data, where do you put us right now in this battle?

STEVEN MCDONALD: It's a good question. So the numbers, as you mentioned, are very hopeful at the moment. I attribute that spike at the end of 2020 to people really wanting to celebrate the holidays, really want a bit of normalcy in their lives, and an inability to stick to public health precautions. Now that we're in these sort of dreary winter months without a holiday or without a gathering, we're seeing a precipitous fall. People have no reason to gather normally.

AKIKO FUJITA: Dr. McDonald, this comes at a time when so many of us are trying to understand what these new variants mean and how that complicates the response for doctors like yourself. I'm curious what you have seen in your emergency room. And what's been most noticeable about the impact of these variants that you think has maybe shifted from what you saw early on in the pandemic?

STEVEN MCDONALD: So in terms of what I'm seeing in the emergency room at the moment, hospitalizations, deaths tend to lag behind the absolute case counts. And so what I'm seeing is still a significant number of coronavirus patients. And I think many New York hospitals are in the same boat.

Regarding new variants, it's really complicated. I think the WHO in South Africa is the best example, which is that even though, for instance, a vaccine like AstraZeneca may be less effective against the South African variant, it still very much has a place in this war against coronavirus. So we shouldn't despair about these new variants yet. We still have tools to fight them, and these mRNA vaccines are also very modifiable, which is very helpful.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, one of my questions was going to be on those vaccines because right now, about 10% of the population here in the US has at least one dose. Close to 3% have had their second dose. But there are concerns that maybe, you know, production stopgaps or rolling this out might be a problem in terms of getting that second dose to some people who already got their first. How worrisome is it, that fact, if we do see that happen since a lot of the studies tied back to making sure you did get that second dose right on time?

STEVEN MCDONALD: It's a good question. I think there's active debate in the virology and public health communities on this. So I don't want to come down too hard on any side. I was just reading that there may be good evidence that people who have had COVID could only get one dose of the vaccine. So that might open up a second dose to a lot of people. This is an active area of exploration. And I don't think we have a great answer yet.

AKIKO FUJITA: I mean, having said that, there's a lot of viewers who've been watching this, saying, well, what exactly should I do? Because there are questions about whether that second dose, in fact, will be there. It feels like the medical community is really split on that issue of whether, in fact, the second dose should be held at a time when there's a lot of concern to race ahead of these variants. What do you advise?

STEVEN MCDONALD: You know, to achieve any sort of herd immunity with a vaccine, you do need people to be vaccinated at levels that we're seeing with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the 90%, 95%. So if you do have access to that second dose, I highly recommend taking it.

ZACK GUZMAN: Doctor, one last thing here, too. We saw the IHME model, the one that the White House follows, get updated a few days ago. They were kind of pointing to the idea that we could see another spike in cases, not nearly as large as we saw over the last winter.

But looking into maybe Americans becoming a little bit complacent with wearing masks. Obviously, New York returning to indoor dining this week. I'd be curious, in your case as a doctor, this kind of ebb and flow, as we see cases come down, it seems like people loosen up. Is that what you're seeing out there as well?

STEVEN MCDONALD: Absolutely. I think people generally follow what the government says. So when they open up in-door dining, people indoor-dine. I will reiterate here, though, that the biggest cause of spread throughout this has been what's called living room spread.