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Infectious Diseases Physician on COVID-19 spike: ‘We really should be sticking to those public health measures’

Infectious Diseases Physician Dr. Payal Patel joins Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita to discuss break down the latest coronavirus developments, as cases across the U.S. continue to spike.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's turn our attention now to the coronavirus because we're now averaging roughly 60,000 new cases a day. That is the most since the beginning of August. Health officials are now warning that the country is on pace to record the most new daily cases since the pandemic began. And that peak could come in the next several days.

Let's bring in Dr. Payal Patel. She is an infectious disease physician in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dr. Patel, it's good to talk to you. Let me just get first your thoughts on this surge that we are seeing across the country. When you look at the trajectory of the virus, we've seen the hotspots pop up from month to month. But this most recent spike seems unique in that it is pretty widespread across the country.

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, that's right. I think that we're very worried about the kind of nationwide spike that we're seeing in increasing cases of coronavirus. And going into the winter, it's worrisome because we know that we're about to also see, just in general, more flu cases as well, which can be a strain on the healthcare system.

And so I would say that people all over the US, from the infectious disease perspective and healthcare perspective, are worried yet again about the same problems-- PPE, hospital capacity. And we still have kind of the same weapons in our arsenal. We're still saying, please stay at home if you can. Mask, social distance, wash your hands. We don't have a complete answer to this yet.

AKIKO FUJITA: Based on what you have observed on the ground there, what's different about this most recent spike?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, I think that what's happening is that people are kind of thinking that things have improved and getting maybe tired of what's going on, and so kind of going back into some of their older routines.

For example, I'm in Ann Arbor. I live in a college city. And we just had some news today and yesterday that the local public health department is actually advising college students to stay at home. And so I think that that's just kind of reflective of what's going on in a national capacity. People are trying to get back to some of their older routines. And that's leading to more spread of the infection.

AKIKO FUJITA: On the vaccine front, we did get that news coming out of Brazil in the last few hours or so that a volunteer in their clinical trial over there on this coronavirus vaccine has now died. This comes as we look to the US trial here for the AstraZeneca vaccine to resume. What do you make of the news coming out of Brazil? And how big of a concern is it?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, I think that I would like to say that this happens all the time during vaccine trials. A serious event occurs. And what needs to happen is the researchers look and try to understand whether this is truly related to the vaccine or not. And that's what's happening right now.

If the trial resumes, we can kind of find out more from what the researchers think. But this is not a super rare event. And it's expected when vaccines are being tested. So we need to see if the two are related or not.

AKIKO FUJITA: And given some of the headlines we've gotten on this issue over the last few weeks, does your timeline for a vaccine coming to market change at all? What are you looking at right now? What are you expecting?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, so this week is actually ID week. So we have more than 10,000 Infectious Disease professionals getting together and sharing what we thought. This morning, we heard from Dr. Fauci about vaccines. And it looks like, if we're cautiously optimistic, we should have some sort of answer in the next few months per what we're getting from all of the vaccine trials going on.

AKIKO FUJITA: And what are you hearing in terms of availability and the capacity to produce enough vaccines when, in fact, one of them is approved by the FDA?

PAYAL PATEL: I think that is still a moving target. And I think, as we know more about which vaccine is going to be ready first or which vaccines are going to be ready first, we'll be talking to you more about this.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Dr. Patel, you know, you talked about ID week and your conversation or hearing from Dr. Fauci today about what's different about this spike and what the key concerns are here in the US. We've seen a huge surge in Europe as well.

But you've pointed to this concern that in the US, we never really got to this lull. There has been a constant wave of new cases popping up-- granted, in different parts of the country. What does that mean in terms of our ability to respond to the virus compared to some other countries?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, that's a great question. That was something that struck me this morning, looking at the data. And that is because even despite some of the measures that were taken in the US, when we compare our country to other countries that have been going through the same thing, they were able to really get the numbers down so low that they are not necessarily having the same rise that we are having, even though there are countries in Europe that are seeing rises.

So that means that in these next few months, if we can really try to be better at masking, better about staying home when needed, and get that incident slow, we really would have a good effect and save American lives.

AKIKO FUJITA: So what is the appropriate response, though, in the absence of a vaccine?

PAYAL PATEL: It really is going back to how you felt in those first few days, not going out unless you really need to, staying at home, and trying to keep your distance and masking if you're going to be in public. We really should be sticking to those public health measures, even today.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Dr. Patel, finally, you're in Michigan there, where you've got the Big Ten now resuming games. Clearly, a big part. Fans have been waiting for this for a while. But this comes at a time when we have seen those case counts go up. Is it safe enough to resume, do you think, and what are your concerns with sports moving forward at a time when the virus counts are-- or infection counts are going up?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, I think, you know, when we look at sports and how much we all enjoy those things, the NBA did such a great job, right? They were able to really do it in a safe way, still bring us the season, and avoid players and fans getting infections. I think trying to be innovative as we move forward in a way that we don't put fans or players at risk is really, really important. And that's something that we're going to be figuring out here in Ann Arbor in the next month.