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‘We’re going to go through a really dark period’: doctor on coronavirus surge in the U.S.

Dr. Andre Campbell, Professor of Surgery of UCSF & ICU Physician and Trauma Surgeon Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to break down the latest on coronavirus: the vaccine distribution, California’s spike in cases, and the UK variant found in Colorado.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: But I want to start with this surging coronavirus pandemic. We have, on average, about 180,000 cases of the virus being added to the totals every single day. So we're joined now by Dr. Andre Campbell, Professor of Surgery at UCSF and an ICU physician and trauma surgeon at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Doctor, it is always great to have you with us.

I wish, of course, it was on better news, but I want to start on the UK and what we see there. They're actually planning to vaccinate as many people as possible, instead of what we see here in the United States, which is holding back some of those vaccines to ensure that folks get that first and second dose so, in the UK, really delaying that second dosage of the coronavirus vaccine.

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that plan and if that should be something that the United States really tries, especially as we heard, you know, just yesterday from Dr. Fauci that the vaccinations right now, at least the numbers, are well below where the country wanted them to be.

ANDRE CAMPBELL: Well, good morning, and thank you so much for having me to speak this morning. So we do have a problem with the vaccine. First of all, it's great that we have it. In fact, a week ago, I took the vaccine, and I just-- other than soreness in the arm, it was not a big deal.

So the problem we have here is that there are 14 vaccines that may be distributed to the state, but we only have 2 million people with needle in the arms. At that rate, it's going to be a long time by the time we actually get people vaccinated because we're trying to get to this 80% number, this, quote unquote, "herd immunity." So 80% is north of 270 million people. We have 2 million people. We have a lot more people to do.

So I think that trying to get it to as many people as possible, I think that one thing we're missing and we've been missing from the beginning is there is no national plan for the rollout. The plan nationally is to give it to the states and have the states do it, but we need to have a national plan where, basically, we try to get as many shots any arms as possible over the shortest period of time.

They said 20 million. We're going to have 2 million, right? We need to have north of 50 to 100 million people in the next couple of months. We're trying to get back to normal.

Well, the vaccine is giving us hope that we're going to be back to normal so that I think this plan about getting as many people shots in the arm is great, and I think that we need to do that everywhere. It can't just be here in the United States. This is a national and international problem.

So the variant that we found in Colorado, which has been here-- this is the European variant that they found yesterday in a 20-year-old in Colorado. It's probably been here now for a long time, but we've not been studying or sequencing the vaccine-- the virus as much as we should be. So, because of that, we've not been able to make sure that we have identified these variants.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, doctor, on that point of the variant, which, as you just mentioned, we know was spreading, at least, in the UK-- it caused that country, actually, to go into a lockdown just before Christmas. Now that we know it's here on the other side of this-- the other side of the pond, here in the United States, how worried are you that this could actually contribute to an even greater surge of this virus over the next month or two? Because we have a couple of variables here that doctors and public health officials have been saying are going to contribute.

We have, one, the fact that it is winter, two, that everyone is hanging out indoors, and, of course, three, the holidays are forcing a lot of people-- or, at least, causing a lot of people, I should say, not forcing them, but causing a lot of folks to say, hey, I do want to see my parents, my relatives, my friends, other members of my family. Now we have this strain that could be a little bit more contagious. So what are you anticipating then for January, for February, for March, at least, when it comes to this virus?

ANDRE CAMPBELL: So I think, right now, we're going to go through a really dark period. So we should get ready for that. So 1.3 million people are traveling because people have pandemic fatigue. All the things that we know about the masking, distancing, staying at home, all that stuff, washing your hands, we know that stuff works. But, when you travel, you can't do that.

So what happens is, in California, we're kind of bursting at the seams, right? You know, that you've heard that we have-- there's 120,000 people hospitalized, north of that, in the whole United States, which is twice the number that we had in March, 2 times, right? So with that and then what's going to happen now, what we saw in December was the surge from Thanksgiving.

And now this holiday is longer because people want to see their families. That's a normal thing to want to see your family, right? But what happens is we have to hold on because we have to look at the long game. The long game is, in the future, right, we'll be back to normal. Right now, the long game is staying at home, doing all the things that we need to do.

But what happens is, right now, our capacity of hospitals in California are beginning to reach the limit. There are places that have no ICU capacity in Southern California because we're having north of 65,000 cases a day in California. ICU capacity in Southern California is 0. Here, in northern California, it's about 10%, right?

Our hospital, we have a little bit more than 50 COVID patients in the hospital with about 13 in the ICU, right? And that's more than we had when we were in the spring. So we're going to have a surge on a surge on a surge, and that's what's going to happen through January and February.

So we just have hold out until we can get enough vaccines in people's arms so that we can make sure that people, if they get it-- right, remember, the vaccine will prevent serious illnesses. You may get it, but it'll be less. Even the variants that they're reporting now, the vaccines, all three of them, are supposed to be sensitive against that.

And, remember, vaccine-- I mean, so viruses always mutate all the time. So this is a normal, expected thing that happens. And the question is can we get enough vaccinations in people's arms to make sure that we can spread immunity to the virus around the whole population.

KRISTIN MYERS: I have just about 30 seconds left with you here, doctor. And I'm hoping you can answer this question quickly for us. You're talking about, you know, how everyone has to hold on. Do you think that more restrictions are needed as a part of that to really help us fight this pandemic?

ANDRE CAMPBELL: I think that we've tried not to do lockdowns, and we have a lockdown in California. When you reach capacity, you have to have a lockdown, right? That means-- because you can't have more people. They have people in tents in Southern California.

So we've got to hold on so that I think it's really based on capacity. It should be individually in different parts of the country. And it should not be a national thing right now unless things just get more out of control.

But, right now, things are looking very dark in the short term. Long term, it's looking like we're going to beat this thing. And I think that's what people have to remember. We're going to beat it. And we just need more time.

KRISTIN MYERS: Well, that's definitely some good news to end on there. We're going to beat it. Dr. Andre Campbell from UCSF and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, always a pleasure to have you with us.

ANDRE CAMPBELL: Thank you so much for having me, Ms. Myers. I appreciate it. And happy holidays and happy New Year.

KRISTIN MYERS: And happy New Year to you as well.