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'Pandemic fatigue is hitting the nation': Expert

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, Infectious Disease Physician at Washington University School of Medicine and the John Cochran VA Medical Center, joins Yahoo Finance's Zack Guzman to break down the latest coronavirus developments as the U.S. death counts surpasses 200,000.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Want to dig into the latest we heard in Senate testimony from the nation's top medical experts. The head of the CDC, the head of the FDA, and Dr. Anthony Fauci testified today on the latest efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic as US cases continue to rise, both here and around the globe, worrying things coming in from the UK. Well, Johnson & Johnson announced the beginning of their phase III vaccine candidate trials, that was a boost of confidence, as CDC Director Rob Redfield remained realistic in stressing that there are still major concerns here for 90% of the nation remaining susceptible to the virus. Take a listen.

ROBERT REDFIELD: A majority of our nation, more than 90% of the population, remains susceptible. It varies in different geographic parts, from states that have less than 1% with evidence of previous infections, as some that have more than 15%, 20%, and one as high as 24%.

ZACK GUZMAN: So there are some serious concerns to digest here, as well as, again, that worrying uptick as cases in the UK surge in terms of daily cases there, the highest we've seen surging since May. So here to discuss all of that with us is our first guest today, Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis joins us right now.

And doctor, I appreciate you being with us today. When we dig into it, I guess we'll just start with the warnings here from Dr. Redfield when we think about all the pressure on these agencies right now to operate within the confines of the trust that the public's put in them to make sure we're handling this right. Where do you think we're sitting heading up into what doctors and medical experts have said is the most worrying point here as we worry about this second wave?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: Thanks for having me, Zack. We're seeing an uptick in many states across the country right now. And specifically where I am in St. Louis in the Midwest, we're seeing definitely an uptick in the last month or so. And I think multiple things come into play here.

There's certainly an element of pandemic fatigue that is hitting the nation and hitting households particularly where, you know, they've been subjected to shelter-in-place earlier on this summer and at the end of the spring. They've been asked to wear masks. They've been asked to really change their entire lives in thinking about how to protect themselves and others. And there's this desire to get back to life as we knew it before, missing friends, missing socialization.

Certainly, other things have come into play. We know schools are opening up as well, and there is this pressure, right, to balance the need to put the health of our children, our teachers, and staff members that support schools first, whilst also paying attention to, obviously, the great need for education and socialization with the benefits that there is there from a mental health perspective as well. I think all of these things, and the need to keep our economy boosted, some [AUDIO OUT] there is hardworking American folks with small businesses who just do not feel like they can continue to keep their businesses closed. So we're just stuck in this very sort of delicate balance between how to honor those things, whilst keeping health first.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and on that front, I mean, when we talk about virus fatigue, I mean, I wonder if that's something that we may have seen play out here in the UK as cases, again, continue to rise over there. But back here in the US, I wonder, also, how much of that might be potentially a piece of the president saying that the vaccine that people have been waiting for might be coming here by election day?

That's not exactly matching up with the timeline we're hearing from the CDC. And we are seeing strengthening of thresholds here in terms of the FDA's own guidelines for those vaccine candidates. I'd be curious to hear your take on how that might play into this, as well, as you're describing kind of the way a lot of people might be getting tired of the way things have gone so far.

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: I think anyone that has heard me speak knows that I lead and will always say vehemently that the science has to lead. We cannot put the science into a box that is constrained by time. We need to follow the science and wherever-- wherever that may be.

Now, the good news is, we've been doing this for decades, right? We have been-- we've developed vaccines in the past, so we have a great system in place that includes checks and balances and advisory boards. So I'm not concerned that we will be unable to get to this-- to this goal that we want, as far as vaccine development, but there is much more in play, right?

There's the ability to produce a vaccine, but first, we have to make sure it's safe and efficient, which is the whole goal of phase III trials. We need to make sure that scientists across the country and academic centers across the country have been able to really rigorously look at the data that comes out to ensure that it adds up. But past that, it's about implementation and dissemination.

How do we roll this out? How do we make sure that the people most at risk and the people most vulnerable get it, knowing what we know about Black, Latinx, and Native American communities being disproportionately affected? Because it's all good and well to have the numbers that we need as far as actual physical vaccines, but if we can't safely get it to the people that need it, then we're not going to get to where we need to be in this country.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and that's a very good point, and it's also one of those interesting things as we see Johnson & Johnson move forward with their phase III trials, an interesting vaccine candidate since it is expected to be a one-shot vaccine versus some of the other ones that might take two, as well as the storage components there a lot less tricky as well. And we're going to be discussing that with our their scientific officer a bit later in the show. But I do want to ask you about what we're seeing play out in the UK, though, because it does strike fear, I think, in a lot of people back here who are very afraid of seeing a second lockdown happen in their communities here, just because of what you're describing and the pains that we've seen on the small business front.

But Britain, they reported more than 6,000 new cases of COVID on Wednesday. That was the highest increase we've seen since May 1. Pubs and restaurants, as we heard from Boris Johnson, going to be closing early again. I mean, how realistic is it that we could see lockdowns return here to the US if we can't control things the same way?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: This is about leadership. This is about clear and consistent messaging. What we need to do here has been clear, and those of us in medicine and in public health have not swayed from our messaging. We need masking. We need six feet of social distancing wherever possible out in public.

We now know that crowded spaces put us at greater risk for transmission, and so we need to be thoughtful about that. And if we do not apply those very basic standards across the board, we will certainly find ourselves back [AUDIO OUT] so sort of half measures will continue to see us having to employ some of the restrictions in place. But this needs for communities to be constantly listening to guidance from their city and local health departments, from medical and public health experts such as myself, but certainly under the leadership of Dr. Fauci and other people that have studied this for decades and dedicated their lives to it.

But you are not wrong. What we're seeing in London should be troubling for those of us here, because we're also coming into flu season, folks. And with that, we've got to be thoughtful about how that is going to impact not only the health of individuals, but hospital resources going into this winter. So messaging that stays away from shaming folks, from stigmatizing folks needs to be what we lead with. But again, that comes with-- from the top down, clear and consistent leadership to push through these public health standards.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, I know you have a lot to focus on as an infectious disease physician at Washington University School of Medicine. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us here today. Once again, Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, appreciate you taking the time.

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: Thanks for having me and for nailing my name, Zack. You did a great job.