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Doctor on the Olympics regarding COVID-19: ‘There are a lot of concerns’

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Dr. Shikha Jain, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Illinois Chicago, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

- Let's talk now about the coronavirus pandemic, as 40% of all new COVID cases, get this, come from just three states. That's Florida, Missouri, and Texas. Let's talk more about this. We're joined now by Dr. Shikha Jain, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago.

So doctor, 40% of the cases are coming from just those three states that I mentioned. What needs to be done, really, to either boost vaccinations in those three states or, really, should we start thinking about restrictions that really need to take place inside of Florida and Missouri and Texas, so that that does not spread beyond their borders?

SHIKHA JAIN: Yeah, that's a great question. And you're absolutely right. It's really scary that so many cases are coming from those three states. And as you mentioned, the real concern is that these numbers are rising in those states because the vaccine levels are so low.

So there's been a lot of local government officials over there over the last year and a half who have been advocating against masks and haven't really been as supportive of vaccines.

And so I think what's really needed is a public health messaging campaign where we're encouraging people to get vaccinated, we tell them how safe it is, we explain to them why it's needed, and then advocating for masks anywhere you are out in public, vaccinated or unvaccinated, to be honest. With numbers that high, everyone should be wearing masks.

And it sounds like they're going to need a lot more restrictions in order to not only get people vaccinated, but also to get the numbers under control to protect everybody.

- You know, Doctor, we see these new COVID cases really mainly concentrated in those three states, however. But just for those that are watching at home, if you are in New York, if you're in Chicago, for example, or LA, why should you care that folks are not getting vaccinated in some of those states and that they are therefore seeing coronavirus cases rise as a result?

How does what's happening there, their lower vaccination rates, really impact us the country as a whole, and perhaps can impact the health of someone who lives many states many miles away?

SHIKHA JAIN: You're absolutely right. It can impact all of us. And that's why it's so important to get those vaccine numbers up and get the spread numbers down for a variety of reasons. So number one, those people who live in those states don't just stay in those states. They travel. So people who are unvaccinated can very easily be mingling around in your state, in your city, in your county, and they may have COVID. And they may spread it to you or your loved ones.

The other thing that I think is a really important point is these numbers that are spreading within the unvaccinated communities have the possibility of new, more dangerous, and more deadly variants could potentially arise. And when that happens, we might get to a point where the very effective vaccines that we have now may not be effective against these new variants.

So while you might think you're sitting in your house, and my state has a great vaccine rate, and I'm not worried because I'm vaccinated, you really should be looking at these numbers across the state, because people travel, and when this spread happens, there is a chance for more virulent, more dangerous mutants or variant strains to start to spread and develop.

- You know, I want to ask you about the Olympics in just a moment. But before we do, the one thing that I think so many folks are concerned about, especially as we're seeing this Delta variant rise and now the presence of this new lambda variant. We still don't know how dangerous how severe that variant is going to be.

But it's the school season. It's essentially just around the corner. We're practically already in August. So we're only about a month away before back to school. We don't yet have a vaccine for children under the age of 12. What are the concerns there that are going to happen once we do start opening schools and children are sitting in classrooms once again?

SHIKHA JAIN: So I'll tell you, we know how to get schools open, how to get kids in person schooling, and how to keep the schools open. We've seen it across the country, even over the last year, where schools that implemented masking requirements for everyone, vaccinated or not, where they had good ventilation and where they were able to have that distancing, three to six feet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement earlier this week recommending very strongly that universal masking should be applied in every school when the school year begins if we want to keep the schools open. And that's so important, because, again, it's really hard for teachers to keep track of who's vaccinated, who's not vaccinated.

And for our kids' mental, physical, and educational health, we need them in person in schools. And the way to keep kids in schools is to keep COVID out of the schools. And the way we keep COVID out of the schools is we get people vaccinated and we get everybody in the schools masked to avoid the COVID spread within those populations.

- So I figure it would be a good way to finish this conversation talking about the Olympics, since it did kick off today in Tokyo. You know, they already have canceled having spectators at the event. Every single day it seems that there is a new headline about how many dozens of athletes or just folks that are a part of the Olympics that are testing positive.

What are the concerns, do you think, there with this event? Do you think that this really shows that we are not ready to perhaps open up to life as normal? And are there very real concerns that perhaps, especially for the American delegation that is there, that they could bring the virus back here to the United States and perhaps infect some folks at home?

SHIKHA JAIN: So I want to tell you, I love the Olympics. I watch it every-- every Olympics I've watched it with my family. I love the Olympics. But there are a lot of concerns this year. They did not require vaccines for all attendees. They did not require that all people who are attending the Olympics are vaccinated. That is a concern.

There are people coming from all over the world who could potentially be bringing other more contagious variants. That's a concern. Japan itself does not have a very high vaccination rate, and there's a concern that people within the Olympics will spread the virus within Japan to the people who are working there, and then they take it home and we see a bigger spread within Japan itself.

And then we can start to see when the Olympics are over, people bringing COVID back to their own home countries. So yes, there are a lot of concerns. I think we've already seen, as you mentioned, a number of COVID-19 cases already shown positive in the last couple of days, just since people have started to arrive.

So I do think there are a lot of concerns. And I think people are going to be watching very carefully and seeing what happens. And it'll be kind of be a litmus test, I think, for the entire world to see where are we with this pandemic, and is it possible to start re-opening global travel in the way that we have already started to see? Or do we need to start putting in more restrictions again to really prevent the spread from going global, as it has over the last year and a half?

- All right, we will have to leave that. There Dr. Shikha Jain, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago. Thanks so much for joining us today.