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LA schools to test 700k students for COVID-19

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Dr. Amesh Adalja, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Senior Scholar, joins Yahoo Finance's Zack Guzman to discuss the outlook on COVID-19 as the U.S. approaches flu season, along with plans of Los Angeles schools to test 700k students for the virus.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: We have seen the average daily case count here in the US flutter and decline, mostly when you look at a seven-day moving average there. But beyond that, a lot to discuss here as there are fears of an emerging twindemic. That would be a flu crisis paired with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic we're seeing play out, adding to a push from experts here to push Americans as well as everyone-- we're seeing the same thing play out in the UK right now-- to take up flu vaccines while you can to do your part to try and, I guess, minimize the impacts of a twindemic.

And here for more on that as well as everything else the country is facing on the pandemic front is Dr. Amesh Adalja. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Senior Scholar joins us now. Dr. Adalja, it's good to have you back on the program.

I just want to first start with those fears around a twindemic because we've heard from Dr. Fauci stressing that you should be doing your part to get a flu vaccine now, but we know Americans generally sometimes fall into that camp of, well, it's not going to really impact me, so why would I get one? But why is it so important this year to do so?

AMESH ADALJA: You have to remember that influenza and the coronavirus are going to be competing for the same resources in terms of hospital beds, ICU beds, mechanical ventilators, personal protective equipment, as well as even the reagents for the diagnostic tests. So the lower the burden of influenza there is, the more room we have to deal with COVID. And we have to assume that we're going to see flu cases because this is going to be flu season, and coronavirus may actually accelerate when the weather is much more conducive to its spread when people can't be outdoors as much.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and when you're talking about diagnostic testing, as we know, I mean, we're already dealing with the problems of how long it takes for some of these test results to get back. And right now some pretty interesting discussions and announcements coming from the nation's second-largest school district in LA saying that the district's planning to test 750,000 students and employees despite going to a virtual format. And we're going to see a bunch of partners play into that testing from Johns Hopkins, as I'm sure you're aware. Stanford, Microsoft, University of California at Los Angeles, all these minds going into it.

But we've heard from President Trump's own testing chief talk about not instituting mass testing. So what's really the right strategy here, if we should be using those tests now, if it's good practice to get testing strategy in place so when students go back to school, they'll be ready? What's your take on that?

AMESH ADALJA: Well, we know that there inevitably are going to be cases that impinge on schools because there's community spread in many parts of the country. But the question always has to be, you know, do you get actionable test results? Is the turnaround time sufficient to actually be able to do something with those test results? And that's a question for Los Angeles County schools to figure out what they're going to do with those tests, how much-- how frequently they're going to sample the student and teacher population, and in what capacity they have to do it.

I think we're trying to figure out what the best testing strategy is in this country, and we're not quite there yet. And we still don't know whether or not PCR-based testing is the way to go or should we be moving more towards contagiousness tests, for example, which tell you not if you have the virus but are you contagious or not?

So there's a lot of real-time learning going on, and I don't think that we have the best idea of how to use these tests. But we want to make sure that the tests we're doing actually are actionable, and that's going to be a challenge with the turnaround times being so high. But hopefully Los Angeles County schools has a robust plan and way to get these test results to the students and teachers as quickly as possible.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, I mean, we'll see what happens there. Obviously we know that New York is right now the largest school district to be moving forward with in-class teaching. LA, as I said, opting out.

But obviously the fears continue to rise with the idea of some of these strains starting to mutate. It's something. Dr. Fauci's talked about. Obviously not what you would want to see if we're discussing a twindemic and what else could be on the plates of doctors out there, but some evidence of that is being raised in Southeast Asia. We've covered some reports there from the Philippines talking about a mutation-- a version of coronavirus that might actually infect people at a higher rate. What's your take on what we're seeing there and how real some of the fears around coronavirus mutating in the wrong direction could make this disaster really worse moving forward?

AMESH ADALJA: So it's important to remember that all viruses mutate. This is something that's just, by their nature, going to happen. Most mutations have no real functional effect, and most-- the other mutations don't really do anything or they actually make the virus less fit for replication.

But we have been seeing a mutation crop up in many parts of the world that, at least in a laboratory setting, shows increased efficiency of infection. We don't know what that really translates to in the real world between people, and the virus isn't behaving any differently in humans, meaning you still have the same complications. You still have the same rate of pneumonia, and there's nothing different that we do to treat it.

So I think it's important to track these mutations, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and think that there's kind of a super strain that's developing because that's not the case. This virus doesn't seem to be doing anything differently. It doesn't seem to be evading our antiviral therapies. And the part of the virus that we're seeing the mutation doesn't seem to be something that will make it any harder to make a vaccine.

So it's something track and make sure we're following, but I don't think there's any reason to change anything we're doing now because this is a matter of fact that this virus is going to mutate as it moves through populations.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, whether the virus is changing, it's very clear that we ourselves are changing in how we respond to this pandemic right now. And it's not obviously the same across states, and here in New York we've seen our positivity rate fall back down to about 1% on average. But we did get the update today from Governor Cuomo saying that New York gyms can open beginning next week with 33% capacity as well as a mask mandate there.

But people are going to be going back to the gyms, and this seems to be a contentious issue here because it's not exactly one of those things that you might say is essential. But what's your take on how that might maybe move things in the wrong direction as New York even starts to open up? Obviously they've waited a long time, very conservative here. But how should we be thinking about even that state starting to open up and the risks of resurgence?

AMESH ADALJA: Well, you have to remember that no activity is going to be risk free, and this is the new normal. This virus has established itself in the human population, and we have to find some way to pursue those values that we want to pursue in the face of this virus. And I do think that you can open a gym in a safe manner by decreasing the capacity, thinking about face coverings, just changing the operations. In many states, and even including in New York, I think, outside of New York City, you're seeing gyms trying to adapt to this new normal.

And we haven't seen in contact tracing from other states, for example, gyms being a major source of infection. So I do think you can do this safely, and I think it's important to learn from the best practices. And New York has gotten control of this virus to such a degree that it is something that seems to be stable so far.

So I suspect that this will probably go OK in New York City, but we'll have to be vigilant, and gyms will have to comply with the best practices that are in place.