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Omicron: 'We think that things will get better' but hospitals are slammed right now

Dr. Andre Campbell, a professor of surgery at UCSF and ICU physician at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the rise in COVID-19 cases in California, staffing shortages, and the need to vaccinate as many Americans as possible.

Video Transcript

EMILY MCCORMICK: Let's stick with this topic and bring in Dr. Andre Campbell, professor of surgery at UCSF and ICU physician and trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Dr. Campbell, thank you so much for your time this afternoon.

As an ICU physician, in the past several weeks, what have you been seeing in terms of the volume and severity of cases of patients with COVID coming through your hospital?

ANDRE CAMPBELL: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. It's unfortunate that the pandemic continues. So what have we been seeing here in San Francisco? And that is the numbers of cases have gone up dramatically from just a couple a couple of weeks ago. Now we're up to about 40 in our hospital.

At the worst of the first wave of the second wave, so to speak, in California, we had up to 71 patients. We had about eight in the ICU. But what's happening even more now, which is really dramatic, and we didn't have it last time, the virus is burning through the staff at the hospital. So we have hundreds of nurses, support staff, even some of the doctors fell ill from this virus.

So this virus is accelerating. In a way, it's burning through the population. There are about 145,000 people who are hospitalized. And that's way more than before. The incidence of daily infections are twice of what it was before. They mentioned milder.

Now, remember, 62% of people have two vaccines, but only 20% to 30% of people have three. Fully vaccinated in my estimation now is two shots plus a booster. That gives you the protection. So if you get it and you're fully vaccinated and boosted, then the incidence of your infection may not be as bad as it was before.

But we're really teetering on the brink in health care because we're getting really strapped to the max with respect to the numbers of cases that are happening amongst the health care providers providing health, not only the doctors, the nurses, the support staff, the janitorial staff. It's really affecting us tremendously at this point in time.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Dr. Campbell, good to see you. I'm almost ashamed to ask this question because the medical people, whether they be doctors, nurses, anyone in the hospitals who have been working now two years to protect people, certainly need a break. But we're hearing stories that in some medical facilities, if someone tests positive for COVID, they're still saying if you're not ill but you've tested positive, you can keep working.

Now, we have not independently confirmed that. It was a story that might not be 100% accurate. But have heard of anything like that? And would that be a foolish thing to do?

ANDRE CAMPBELL: Well, what has happened-- now, this is the reports I have heard. Now, at our facility, it is not like that. So you get tested. You go out for five days. Then you get retested. And then at that point, they decide whether or not you can come back or not.

So many times, people come back at eight or nine days after they've been infected. But we do not have that policy. I've heard that. I don't think that's right. I think that's wrong. But what has happened is people are running out of health care providers to take care of patients. So that's why you're hearing these stories.

Not at our place, but it is beginning to creep up. But I think that is the wrong thing to do. I think if you're sick, you should stay home because you do not want to spread the infection to someone else.

What happens in our system, you get sick, you get reported to the health care authorities here. And then they guide you through the path back to work. That is the correct way to do this.

EMILY MCCORMICK: In San Francisco and the surrounding areas, do you think you're past the peak for this wave of omicron, or do you still think there's a certain amount of time still to go for there still to be strain on the health care system with this current surge?

ANDRE CAMPBELL: So we hope that things will get better. You mentioned the South African experience a little bit ago being the lead-up to this. It went through, and then it went down. Britain, it's going down. There is evidence that in New York that it may be peaking and going down. In Maryland and in Washington, DC, it may be going down. And there was some evidence, well, maybe we may be going down here. But that is not any guarantee because one day it may go down, but it goes up.

So we may have 35 patients. But then today we have 44. So I think it's a little bit early to say that. But we're hoping against hope that things will get better in the short term.

ADAM SHAPIRO: We've seen lots of doctors addressing this issue, some people who just, let's get the omicron variant and get it over with because, quote, it's mild. And there was a doctor on television this morning saying, that is just very foolish. Mild is not necessarily a cakewalk. What advice would you have to people who, when we hear that the symptoms of this are mild, get reassured and don't worry about contracting this?

ANDRE CAMPBELL: That is absolutely wrong because if you're unvaccinated-- and 80% or 90% of the people in the hospital unvaccinated. They're not having mild cases. They're dying.

Remember, 1,600 people are dying a day in the United States. 1,600, that's a lot. So that means in a 10-day period, that's 16,000 people. Right now, it's 64 million cases, 850,000 deaths. There's nothing mild about that at all. So my advice to you is don't get it. Wear a mask. Make sure your vaccinated and boosted, so again, all three. So to me, three is the new two.

So make sure you do that. It is really important that you get vaccinated and you take care of yourself so you don't get it. Don't get this virus because you don't want to get sick because we don't know what long COVID looks like for omicron.

We know that something like 25% of people who get the delta variant may have long COVID. And some people estimate it's 50%. Long COVID, you don't even want to entertain that. So don't get it. That's my advice to you. That is absolutely wrong. Protect yourself. Protect your family.