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Hospitals are ‘very stressed’ as COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S.: Doctor

U.S. COVID-19 deaths have hit a new record as the case count surges. UT Health San Antonio Emergency Medicine Resident Physician Dr. Owais Durrani joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

- Let's turn our attention to the coronavirus now because even as lawmakers push for this impeachment, we've continue to see the health crisis really engulf so many states across the country, the number of COVID-related deaths surging to more than 4,100 on Thursday alone. In the face of all of this some good news, a new University of Texas study confirming that the Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine is likely to be effective against that more infectious variant coming in from South Africa and the UK.

Let's bring in Dr. Owais Durrani, he is UT Health San Antonio emergency medicine resident physician. And, doctor, it's good to talk to you. Let me just get your sense of what's playing out on the ground. It feels like every day we're repeating these numbers-- another record cases, another record deaths, record hospitalizations. What have you seen firsthand there and is there any hope that things are starting to taper off even just a little?

OWAIS DURRANI: Well, thanks for having me. You know, the short answer is no. We are in this for the long haul at this point. 4,000 deaths nationwide. As you mentioned, here in Texas, we're the case with the second-most COVID-19 cases nationwide. And in San Antonio, Texas yesterday we admitted 207 people to the hospitals. These death numbers are actually all from pre-Christmas travel, so that's even a more concerning factor to add on top of these numbers that, you know, are headed in the wrong direction when we look at the trajectory.

We've also identified a few cases of that new variant here in Texas as well. It's much more transmissible and so that's, kind of, adding to the burden and stress level, kind of, moving forward. And unlike previous surges, on a local and state level, we're just not taking the public health policy measures to mitigate this surge like we were six months ago. And so that combination of things worries me.

What I'm seeing firsthand is lots of patients being admitted to the hospital, the ICUs and medicine floors not having enough room for them, so they're sitting down in the emergency department for long periods of times. And, at the same time, we're still getting many more critically ill patients. And so our system is very, very stressed at the moment.

- And Dr. Durrani, I mean, I'm out here in Dallas and continue to hear from nurses who are dealing with this in the ICU and they stress how dire the situation is right now. But, optimistically, people are looking ahead and no doubt the medical community is obviously the first to experience vaccines here. What do you make of the progress being made there since we're still behind that 20 million target, or at least where we want it to be at the end of the year here, as we roll that out. What's your estimation of how that's been going from what you've seen with this first group?

OWAIS DURRANI: You know, it hasn't been going as well as we had hoped. You know, on a frontline health care level, I think it's been going OK. There's still many rural communities and rural frontline physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists that haven't gone it. But I know here in Texas we've expanded vaccinations to phase [? 1B ?] and so, for example, my dad qualifies in that category. I've been trying to help him locate that vaccination and where he can potentially get vaccinated and it's been very, very difficult, lots of roadblocks, very hard to get information, any types of appointments or anything like that.

On a nationwide level, we know that only 20% to 30% of vaccinations distributed have gone into arms and that's unacceptable. The other thing we're racing against this time right now. This new strain, this new variant, I expect it to be the predominant variant come, you know, March or April. And so we need to get as many people vaccinated before that happens so that this surge that we're in doesn't continue into the spring because of how much more transmissible this new strain is.

- Doctor, we, of course, have a new administration coming in in 12 days here. We've heard the President-elect aim for this goal of 100 million shots in the first 100 days. Given the reality on the ground, the resources that you have right now, how realistic is that you think?

OWAIS DURRANI: Yeah, I think it's more aspirational at this point. I think if we had met the benchmarks set by Operation Warp Speed at the end of December and going into January 20, it was something that could have been possible. But I think we have to reset now on January 20 and kind of take a look at what is realistic. We also have to address this massive vaccination effort in new ways. So we need mass vaccination events, we need to, you know, go to stadiums, go to events, go to where minority communities are. So many times they've been kind of left behind in public health measures that have been launched and making sure that we're getting to the masses in a way that is different than, say, your flu vaccine because we are, as I mentioned, in a race against time. And so we need to turn to bigger, greater measures to make sure that we don't lose this fight.

- And, doctor, I mean, when we talk about the race, it's interesting because this whole week we've been kind of discussing this break in strategy that we've seen play out in the UK versus back here. We've heard from Dr. Fauci, kind of, reiterating that the science, in terms of vaccine distribution, has backed up following exactly what we saw in those studies from Pfizer and Moderna in terms of spacing out the vaccinations here, roughly about a month apart. I mean, when you look at that, it sounds like-- CNN is reporting that the administration is going to be opting to break from what we saw under the Trump administration and holding back vaccines to make sure they can follow that dosing strategy to just get everything out the door. When you look at the science, in your medical opinion here, what would you say is, kind of, the pro-con of maybe changing that strategy now?

OWAIS DURRANI: Yeah, so these vaccines were studied in very controlled environments and looking at the numbers quoted, that "95%" that we all like to quote is based on that schedule of vaccination strategy that was essentially published and so moving away from that gets us into a gray zone of uncertainty. We don't know how those numbers change, how our immune systems are going to respond, and so many other unknowns. And so the fact that we have so many vaccinations-- or vaccines out there that haven't been placed into arms, I think that's where we need to focus our efforts, figuring out ways to get what is distributed into arms.

You know, potentially, maybe down the road a month, two months, when we are being limited by the number of doses out there, we can potentially revisit that, see where we're at when it comes to our number of new cases, and how much of virus is being spread in the community. But I think right now our efforts need to be focused on making sure that we get those vaccines into arms.

- And right now a lot of your efforts there personally focused in on the patients suffering with all this. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us and good luck with everything out there. Dr. Owais Durrani at UT Health San Antonio emergency medicine resident physician, appreciate you taking the time.