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Doctor: 'We have not turned the corner' as the U.S. reports a record 153,400 new Covid cases

Dr. Tom Tsai, Assistant Professor in Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard Global Health Institute, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the rise in covid-19 cases across the U.S.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We want to bring into the discussion about COVID Dr. Tom Tsai. He's assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard Global Health Institute. It's good to have you, Dr. Tsai. And there was-- I think it might have been on Twitter, it came from the state of Iowa-- a medical person talking about-- and I'm in an industry that thrives on hyperbole, but this was a tweet that I think frightened a lot of people-- that the health system there is going to collapse because they don't have any more available hospital beds. I mean, there are a lot of us who are very afraid about the future. Can you put this into perhaps calming words for us for what we're witnessing? Or should we be afraid?

TOM TSAI: OK. Thanks, Adam, great to be here with you. And I'm also deeply concerned. And we are at over 60,000 hospitalizations. We've broken the record for hospitalizations with COVID compared to the first wave of the pandemic. And what strikes me as different in this current phase is that there was a lot of shared resolve in March, April to flatten the curve. And we had physicians and nurses from all over the country streaming into New York to help.

But we're not in a situation to do that anymore, because COVID is in all of our backyards now. We don't have that ability to load balance and share, because we have to focus on our own backyards and put out the fire, so to speak. And there's a second phase of this, which is that during the first phase of the pandemic, there was a shortage of beds and ventilators and supplies, including masks and PPE. What's concerning about this phase is we have a shortage of people-- of nurses and doctors-- who are getting sick. And you know, the supply of ventilators have increased. Our supply of masks have increased. But our supply of doctors and nurses have not. And I'm very deeply concerned about what that means for the next few weeks.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor Tsai, I mentioned what's going on in Iowa. I mean, it's happening in a number of states. There are state officials out of Wisconsin basically saying that they're at a tipping point right now-- that they are basically warning that they're not going to be able to save everyone who is sick. Going off of what you just said, then, it sounds like, should we be preparing for more states to come out with dire warnings like this?

TOM TSAI: I think so. I think that's where we are headed. You know, we're seeing-- I would say they're hotspots, but the entire map of the US is one giant hotspot. There are 36 states are current hot spots by our definition from our COVID-19 dashboard with over 25 per 100,000 new cases. But the trend is showing that continuing to grow. And we are not turning the corner. We're still in this phase of exponential spread. So I think, you know, what we'll see is increased burden on our hospitals in the coming days and weeks.

ADAM SHAPIRO: In almost two weeks, we haven't heard anything from the National Coronavirus Taskforce. And then President Trump is expected to address some of these issues in about an hour. What do you hope to hear from him?

TOM TSAI: You know, we do have a national plan from the Biden Advisory Council. You know, there have been calls for universal masking, for ramping up testing. We've seen the failure of a lack of a strategy. And a lot can happen to turn the course of the pandemic the next two months. And my hope is the president and the current task force really focus on the problem at hand and try to stem the tide of the rising number of cases.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Tsai, what we have heard from President-elect Joe Biden and the priorities have been laid out from his coronavirus task force, are you confident just in terms of what they seem to be prioritizing-- does that match up with what the country needs and what health care workers are in need of right now?

TOM TSAI: Absolutely, Seana. They're prioritizing science and data. And I think that is a refreshing perspective to have, you know, to guide our policymaking. And their specific plans are also very much in line with the sum total of the public health guidance. You know, we need a pandemic testing board. We've seen the failure of the Patrick response. We need to get the resources to the states-- to the Iowas.

You know, all these states have very strapped state budgets, and letting them figure out the testing on their own is not enough. We need coordinated social distancing policy across jurisdictions and across states as well, especially with increased migration and movement of people. So we can't go at this alone anymore. And we've seen the consequences of that. But again, I'm always a little bit hopeful is that, you know, we get to control this. And this should be another call to action to really try to put into the measures that we know that work.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Has the task force at the national level or any kind of medical task force at the state level ever reached out to you and the team at Harvard Global Health Institute for advice on how to manage the increasing caseload?

TOM TSAI: We've provided our data in terms of our dashboard as well as our guidance around testing. And every month, we produce state testing estimates as well as national testing estimates. So we have been part of a chorus of public health researchers providing guidance to state and federal officials. And I think what strikes me is that the overwhelming consensus of evidence all points to the same direction.