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'We have got to try to prioritize how to keep schools open': Doctor

Primary Care Physician Dr. Pritesh Gandhi joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments as cities across the country consider tightening restrictions.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: We're joined now by primary care physician, Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, to discuss this further. And, doctor, I was talking to one of my closest friends a little bit earlier today. She does pediatric emergency medicine in Missouri, and her children's hospital, she was telling me, is now forced to take on adult patients from the nearby adult hospital because they're reaching capacity. How real is this concern, as you're seeing it on a widespread basis around the country, that hospitals are going to start reaching capacity in the ICUs?

PRITESH GANDHI: It's very real. First of all, thanks for having me today. We saw this play out earlier this year here in Texas. And in Houston, Texas Children's Hospital started to see adult patients. And we know, in El Paso, hospitals are on diversion. They're sending their patients to other major metros across the state. And so, absolutely, there's a real concern, right?

We have a massive increase in the number of cases, and now we all know, right, because we've done this a couple of times this year. After the cases come all civilizations. After the hospital-- hospitalizations come deaths. And now we are better at managing illness in the hospital, but it doesn't change the fact that, if you've got a massive surge of cases, you start to hit the capacity of what hospitals can handle. And we're worried about it.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, as Anjalee was mentioning just a moment ago, we're seeing a patchwork of responses around the country, at least, here, in New York City, getting the news that Mayor de Blasio wants schools to shut down for, roughly, a month. I'm wondering from you if this is the right call to make, especially as-- if you Google, right, are schools dangerous, are schools superspreaders, I keep seeing headline after headline that schools actually aren't superspreader zones.

So I'm hoping you can kind of weigh in there. Is this all based on fear? Or is there a very real concern that we're having that, frankly, schools are not safe places right now for children?

PRITESH GANDHI: So I was the first to say this summer that we weren't prepared to open schools. I was worried about that. Now I'm a father as well. I've got three young kids that are in public schools here. And I didn't think that we were prepared at the time. Although, schools have taken appropriate steps by and large, right, I mean, have worked hard to space out students, have worked hard to increase ventilation, even with the specter of not having appropriate funding to do those things.

And I think what we've seen is that schools are not the hot spots for transmission of illness. That being said, where are our priorities? I believe, as a father, as a pediatrician, as an internist, that the priorities are for our schools to remain open and safe places.

And we've got to think hard about whether indoor dining is appropriate in restaurants at this time. Should all bars be closed right now? Are there other-- are there counties and states across the country where masks are not mandated?

I mean, there is a whole flotilla of public health interventions and policies and procedures that can be put in place now, prior to shutting down schools. Schools become an easy scapegoat-- scapegoat because who's advocating for these children? Who is advocating for these kids?

And I worry about that with the patients that I see in my clinic and the absolute toll on their parents who are, often, working class parents on how to manage-- manage children. It's an entirely different world when you are in a low-income family, and you're trying to figure out daycare, trying to figure out work for your child when school is closed.

And so I think, for me and in my assessment, we've got to try to prioritize how to keep schools open. And the way to do that is to shut down all of these other segments of our-- of our economy that contribute to unbridled transmission.

KRISTIN MYERS: Doctor, you're not the first to come on this program and say this, nor are you the first doctor at all that we've heard talking to any media outlet that really is highlighting the importance, for example, of mask wearing just for everyone, everywhere, in every state, in every city, all across this country. And, yet, we do not have a national mask mandate. We've had a president who's gone to rallies without wearing a mask, who's-- you know, folks that are there to support do not wear a mask. He, himself, had the virus and wasn't wearing a mask afterwards.

So we have to-- I think we have to now shift. And you can correct me if you think that I'm wrong, but it seems that we have to shift away from this call for the-- for wearing masks. Yes, we do need to wear them, but it seems, frankly, that folks do not want to.

So, absent of that, absent of having a mask mandate right now, what do you think that we need to be doing then? And do you foresee more lockdowns as a result, given the track and the path that we are on? Do you think that they are in an inevitable reality in a world where the virus right now is spreading at the rate that it is? And you have folks, again, saying that wearing a mask is, essentially, trampling on their civil liberties.

PRITESH GANDHI: We can avoid a lockdown. I shudder at the thought of my patients-- so, for folks that are watching, I lead a nonprofit health clinic here in East Austin. The overwhelming majority of my patients either live in poverty or around poverty, working class families, often, working two jobs, sometimes, three jobs. And I shudder at the thought of what a shutdown will do to their lives and their livelihood and the safety of their families.

We must avoid it. I-- I agree with you. Folks are tired of hearing about masks. There's a subsegment of our population that is straight up ignoring those mandates, but we've got to talk about the big picture here. The big picture is that, by and large, segments of the American people have a significant erosion of trust in authority, whether that's trust in the president, trust in politicians, trust in scientists or public health docs or doctors like myself.

We have eroded the trust that people have because of, yes, mixed messaging, because of, yes, politics infusing into messages of science and objectivity. There are now real public health impacts because of that. It-- it sounds naive to believe that we can move past this by getting around a table and listening to people, but this is what we must do. We need to have courage from our political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, to sit together publicly, openly, with transparency and listen to people.

You know, because I'll tell you, the other night, I was in clinic seeing a patient of mine, you know, perfect example, works two jobs, working class, hard, hard working family, barely making ends meet. And I said, you know what? There are-- there are services for you here. Why don't you sign up for SNAP, for food stamps?

And you know what his response was to me? He said it's not going to matter anyhow. They make it so hard for you to sign up in the first place. It's not worth it.

Now that was a tough moment for me because people are hurting right now. The pandemic has made things worse. And, yet, the communities we seek to serve feel that the government isn't there to help them. We have an erosion of trust. That is where our energy needs to go at all levels. We don't move past this pandemic if we don't rebuild trust across our country.

KRISTIN MYERS: Wise words there. Primary care physician, Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, thank you so much for joining us.

PRITESH GANDHI: Thanks for having me.