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Physician on states reopening too quickly: 'We're going to pay the price for this down the road'

Dr. Seth Trueger, Emergency Medicine Physician in Chicago, IL, joins Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita to discuss how 22 states are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, there are new, troubling signs in the fight to contain the coronavirus. Nearly two dozen states have now reported increase in COVID-19 cases this week. Seven of those states-- including Colorado, Utah, and Arizona-- saw their daily infection rates jump 60% over the last week. Let's bring in Dr. Seth Trueger. He is an emergency medicine physician in Chicago joining us today.

Dr. Trueger, it's good to talk to you. Let's talk about the spike that we have seen. You know, I'm not sure we ever exited the first wave. But this wave in the fall is something we have expected for some time, given the overlap with the flu season. What do you make of this uptick that we have seen in nearly 24 states? And how troubling is that when you compare it to the trajectory of the virus over the last several months?

SETH TRUEGER: Well, thank you, Akiko. You know, this is really troubling. But unfortunately, as you said, it's not really unexpected. You know, what we're seeing is a combination of a number of things. As weather gets colder, people are going to spend more time inside, and we know that indoors transmission is certainly higher than outdoors or in other places, especially as people spend more time with each other.

Additionally, you know, this is hard for all of us. We've been doing this for months. And it's really easy to let things slide. It's really easy for that fatigue to set in, where-- you know, do I really need to wear my mask? We've been doing this for so long. Is it-- you know, is it time to have my kids do play dates? Is it time to go out to bars? And, you know, just because we're all exhausted from it doesn't mean that it's safe to do it.

And, you know, additionally a lot of states are starting to do things, like barge ahead, because they want the economy to rebound. They want people to be doing better. But, unfortunately, until we get the virus under control, it's not going be safe to open things up.

AKIKO FUJITA: That indoor component you talked about-- is that what's driving the transmissions right now, when you look at these individual states that have seen a significant spike over the last week? Or are we starting to see a change in the virus itself?

SETH TRUEGER: You know, it's really hard to know. I'm reluctant to assign any of this to a change in the virus itself. It almost certainly is driven more by our behaviors and, you know, just how we're interacting with each other. And there's a number of things-- like I said, there's the fatigue, there's people spending more time inside because the weather. There's also a lot of things where schools are opening up.

Remember that, basically, for the first six months of the virus, everything we had-- everything we knew about transmission-- was based on schools being closed and kids being at home. It's a very different time right now. So as we see, you know, the combination of all these different behaviors, it's all going to be very, very different. And we don't know exactly what's going to happen.

You know, I'm hopeful that schools that are opening are doing it safely. Kids are wearing masks. Pod sizes are small. Everyone's doing handwashing and people are being responsible at pick up and drop off and, more importantly, outside of school. But, you know, we really don't know what's going to happen because we haven't had this pandemic with schools open for a while yet.

AKIKO FUJITA: And, doctor, you're coming to us from Illinois today. Your neighboring state, Indiana, is preparing to enter that final stage of the reopening process this Saturday. So we're talking about full capacity in restaurants, bars, and gyms. Number one, is Indiana in a place to be doing that right now? And as a neighboring state that still has restrictions in place, what's the knock-on effect you're concerned about?

SETH TRUEGER: I mean, ultimately, I'm not going to pretend I'm an expert and I know all the different things about the numbers and how to reopen. But looking at the numbers, I mean, just simple stuff you can look up online with the reliable information from Johns Hopkins and other places-- their positivity rate is closer to 10% than it is than 5%. It's higher than it is in Chicago. You know, everyone wants to reopen. Everyone wants to go back to normal. Everyone wants to have people employed and go into work and have kids in school and doing well. But it really doesn't look like that's going to be safe. And we're going to pay the price for this down the road. And--

AKIKO FUJITA: How do you counter that, though?

SETH TRUEGER: Yeah, I mean, it's really tough. I mean, the bottom line is there's political reasons and economic reasons why people want to open. But this is very different from normal economic circumstances, where there's something like a housing bubble where it's, you know, an economic-- economic problems or an economic bubble that's driving an economic downturn. If people can't go to work-- if it's not safe for people to go to work-- then people, you know, people can't work. The economy can't rebound.

It's the kind of thing-- you know, we're doing a little better than we were before. There's still 800 Americans dying every single day. That is unacceptable. And it's just certainly not safe right now for all of us. And you see-- you know, you said, as you mentioned, Indiana is a neighboring state. A number of the people I work with every day drive in from Indiana. State lines are porous. We're one big country. We're not 50 separate states.

AKIKO FUJITA: A lot of this, in terms of getting the economy back up and running, is really about confidence among consumers-- feeling confident and comfortable going into restaurants, traveling again. And on that front, we heard from United Airlines, talking about-- they are now looking to offer rapid tests for their Hawaii-bound planes to passengers. Now, the specifics unveiled today-- they're talking about $250 for that test itself. But it does give passengers an opportunity to get tested before they board the plane and, more importantly, for another state-- this case, Hawaii-- to feel comfortable enough to accept those tourists into their state. Is this the kind of blueprint we're looking for to get travel going again? How effective do you think that can be if the onus is on the passenger to pay for the test?

SETH TRUEGER: Yeah. I mean, there's a number of different issues here. You know, ideally, this is the kind of thing that-- if it's done well-- once we get things largely under control, and the prevalence rates are pretty low, this is the kind of thing where it may be safe travel again someday. And this might be part of how we, you know, reopen tourism and start reengaging those parts of the economy. But we're pretty far from that being safe.

Additionally, as you mentioned, people paying out of pocket $250-- that is not a small amount. Obviously, you know, if you're spending money to be able to fly to Hawaii, that's already selecting people who have some money to do it. But this is the kind of thing where we're already seeing-- it's the hardest hit communities that are getting hit hardest. It's people of color, people of low income, people who can't work from home because they work in the service economy, people who work at restaurants, people who, you know, mop the floors.

And these aren't people who are going to be able to spend $250 to go on vacation. And, you know, whether or not we feel comfortable about it doesn't-- is only one small part of what's happening with the pandemic. And, if anything, feeling too comfortable when it's not safe to travel is going to be more dangerous for the community and people around us.

AKIKO FUJITA: And the other question being that, you know, is that going to be prioritized when there are still not enough tests in place to get everybody tested, as well. Dr. Seth Trueger, good to talk to you. Appreciate your time.

SETH TRUEGER: Thank you.