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Doctor: 'It’s not about when I get vaccinated, it’s when we get vaccinated'

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Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Seth Trueger joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Now there is some positive news, if you can believe it, in the coronavirus pandemic. Case counts are declining, as you can see there on that chart, and vaccinations are picking up speed. So let's bring on Dr. Seth Trueger, emergency medicine physician.

Doctor, as I just mentioned, we keep hearing that these case counts are on the decline. Hospitalizations are on the decline, which seems like such positive news. But you work in emergency medicine. What are you seeing on the ground? Is it kind of matching up with what we've been hearing and what some of these charts are saying?

SETH TRUEGER: Yeah, you know, the good news is, we are rounding the corner. The surge from this winter is finally coming down a bit, which is great. We have the vaccine, which our light at the end of the tunnel. But unfortunately, this past December and January was the worst part of the pandemic. It was basically everywhere nationwide. And as you can see, the number of cases, which is the worst it's been, we had up to 4,000 people dying every single day in the US.

So, it's great we've got a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines, but we're also seeing how long and dark the tunnel is going to be. And we're making progress, but we saw very few people vaccinated and lots of cases around. So unfortunately, there's still going to be some work before we get out of this.

KRISTIN MYERS: So you said, you know, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And I know that there's obviously questions, and I think what most folks are really asking is, OK, but when will this be over? And we were reading out today, you know, spring, some folks were saying, are kind of hopeful that we would really kind of get there by spring. Do you think we could be out of the woods by then? That was the long held target from the administration.

SETH TRUEGER: Yeah, I've seen a cautious optimism that we'll be back to some semblance of normalcy by late spring, maybe early summer. It's really going to depend on a lot of things. You know, some of the good news is that the Bush administration has really hit the ground running on getting the vaccines out into arms. The bad news is the last administration had a really terrible idea and had really no planning or coordination with vaccinate-- the vaccine out to get people vaccinated.

So there's a lot of upward room to move, but it's going to be a while. We've had these new great historic vaccines that are doing a great job, but we still have only a few percentage of Americans vaccinated. So it's going to take some time. And unfortunately, for most people-- I've been lucky. I'm a front line worker. I got vaccinated a couple weeks ago. But I haven't really changed my behavior yet because it's not about when I get vaccinated. It's when we get vaccinated. We need a critical mass of people getting vaccinated and cases getting lower before we get back to normal.

KRISTIN MYERS: So then, to that point-- because I was going to ask. You know, what do we really need to do in order to have a summer again? Is it all down to the vaccinations, or is there something else? Because I keep hearing a lot of doctors saying to us, listen, vaccination is great. We absolutely need to speed them up. But that's only one piece of this puzzle right now.

SETH TRUEGER: Vaccines, again, are a great start. They're a big part of getting us out of the pandemic. However, it's, I feel like a broken record. What's going to get us out of this is wearing masks, washing hands, not congregating, staying at home, and not going to mass gatherings. It's really just the same stuff we've been talking about for a year now. The way to get out of the pandemic, the way to get the economy back, the way to get back to normal is you get the pandemic under control.

And vaccines are a very important piece of it, but they're not perfect. And it's going to take a lot of time to get most Americans vaccinated. This is a historic lift. We have started doing it. We have a lot more to do. We're starting to do a much better job than we've been doing. But it's going to take time.

KRISTIN MYERS: How many masks should we be wearing? You mentioned mask-wearing. I feel like I'm up to three now sometimes. I just kind of throw as many on my face. I've got, like, the N90-- a KN95 mask. I've got, like, a surgical mask, a cloth mask. Really, when folks leave their house to go to the grocery store, run some sort of errands, how many masks should they be picking up, and what kind should they be using?

SETH TRUEGER: Yeah. So there's not one solid answer, and I don't pretend to know all of the truth on this. I think if you've got a really solid three-layer mask, like a good medical grade quality mask, KN95 or a good surgical mask, that's probably fine by itself. If you've got a good three-layer cloth mask, that's probably fine by itself. For most people, a cloth mask or doubling up of cloth mask is probably the easiest way to do it.

You know, there's no easy answers here. There's a ton of information online that you can find out about this. But really, I think if you can get a simple cloth mask and double it up, that's probably the easiest thing for most people.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now we keep hearing news about all of the mutations and all of the strains. And we know that viruses mutate, so that, in and of itself, is not surprising. But then we do keep hearing news that perhaps, you know, our tests are not identifying all of these mutations, that the vaccine might not necessarily be as effective, that these new strains might be more contagious. So how much do these mutations really muddy, you know, this positive picture that we've kind of been getting, I would say, over the last week or so about the decline in case counts, the declining hospitalizations?

SETH TRUEGER: Yeah, well, the silver lining is that the mutations are probably not as bad as they could be. And they're probably a reminder and a wake up call that, again, we're not out of the tunnel yet. We're not out of the pandemic. The number one thing that's going to determine if a bad mutation comes is how many opportunities there are to mutate, which, really, again, comes down to cases. Again, it's a broken record. The best way to avoid dangerous mutations is to wear masks, not congregate, wash your hands, get your vaccines, get the case numbers down.

So far, from what we see about mutations we have, they seem a little bit more contagious, but not more dangerous. They don't seem to get you sicker when you get it, but they do seem to spread a little faster, which is bad. Most of what we see, they show to be pretty susceptible to the vaccine and to other immunity, which is great.

But it seems like we've probably been lucky this time. We don't really know exactly what's going to go on with them. There's always going to be a dominant strain in any community because there just has to be something that's more common than the rest. And some of it may just be that. But unfortunately, there are some signs that these are a bit more contagious. And again, the more opportunities there are for the viruses to mutate, the more cases there are. The more that they spread, the more likely these are going to be a dangerous strain of the virus that is not suspectible to the vaccines we have. So again, it comes down to wearing masks, not congregating, washing your hands, getting your vaccines.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, you've repeatedly said that you feel like you sound like a broken record. And the reason you probably feel like you sound like a broken record is because a lot of folks continue to ignore the very basic messaging that you have been repeatedly saying just in the last couple of minutes on this program and I'm sure over the last several months.

So how concerned are you, especially as it seems like pandemic fatigue is at an all-time high? I know I'm tired of being in my house. How worried are you that there is a huge potential out there for us to backslide?

SETH TRUEGER: Yep, absolutely, 100%. I'm really worried about that. Look, I know I'm really lucky. I'm an ER doc, so I've been able to go to work. I've been able to get paid. I've been able to see people at work throughout the whole pandemic. It's been a big benefit. I'm not just sitting at home, doing nothing. And I still have a lot of fatigue about it. So I totally understand. And I'm really worried about a backslide.

And there's so much pressure, especially in cities and communities, but from the business community to open up businesses, to let people have their fun, to save jobs. And really, this is why we need things like financial support for people who can't work, support for restaurants and the businesses that can't be open or can't sell their goods, like they normally could. Because, again, the way out of the-- the way to get the economy back is to get the pandemic under control. And we can't do that with people backsliding. Because unfortunately, it's not about each individual person's decisions. It's about the decisions we all make together. So we decide the first glimmer of hope to reopen restaurants is you're going to go bad again.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, I will repeat what you've been saying so that you don't have to do it. Everyone, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay away from other folks, so that we can finally leave our homes and see each other in person again. Dr. Seth Trueger, emergency medicine physician, thanks so much for joining us.