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‘We’re really getting slammed with cases now’: California Physician on COVID-19 spread

Los Angeles, California Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Jessica Osterman joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how a new COVID-19 variant is now present in California as the U.S. death toll climbs past 342k.

Video Transcript

- Speaking of a lifeline, we are counting on hundreds of thousands of medical personnel nationwide to help us get through the remainder of the pandemic. Let's bring in our guest right now into the stream-- Dr. Jessica Osterman, emergency medicine physician from Los Angeles, California. We appreciate your being here. And while this is the end of a-- how did Queen Elizabeth say it-- annus horribilis? 2020 is just-- it can go home and stay in bed and be forgotten.

Got to give you some statistics here. We had a record 3,900 people die from COVID-19 in just one day. We have 125,000 people in the hospital in the United States. We've surpassed that. What is this like for you because we know Southern California has been hit so hard?

JESSICA OSTERMAN: Yeah, we are seeing higher numbers than we've seen throughout this entire pandemic. Obviously, in the spring, we saw a lot of new cases coming in. But even looking before Thanksgiving, our numbers at the hospital quadrupled. We're kind of in disaster mode where we're trying to find new places to treat patients. We're running out of ICU beds across the county. And there's some hospitals in LA that are actually treating patients in their gift shops, and their lobbies, and things like that. So we are really, really getting slammed with cases right now.

- And what about the new strain of the coronavirus that is reportedly in Southern California. How are you dealing with that? And how is that impacting hospitalizations?

JESSICA OSTERMAN: I'll tell you, I'm not surprised that the strain adheres. I was actually saying with the way we've seen the spread and the numbers just kind of exponentially increase, I had a feeling that it was already here. And we're not treating that strain any differently from a clinical medicine standpoint. But we are, as I say, it is just bringing more patients to the hospital than we've seen in the previous several months. And so we are really trying to figure out where to treat all these new patients coming in.

- Sorry for being muted. There was another TV network where they were talking about what's going on in California. And they said that the lockdowns in California actually made what you're going through now worse. I'm trying to understand what they might have been saying. I think they're mistaken. What would you say to that?

JESSICA OSTERMAN: I will say that I don't think the lockdowns have made any impact. I think whether this is the new strain that is spreading faster or people are still just kind of resuming their daily lives, obviously our patients and our population here aren't inside restaurants and things like that. But you know, I'm sitting in traffic on the way to work every day. It seems like people are still out and about.

And then you compound that with the fact that people were traveling like crazy over the holidays-- Thanksgiving first, and now the Christmas holiday. And I think the worst is really yet to come, because the spike we're seeing right now is really the result of the Thanksgiving holiday and Thanksgiving travel. And I think we're going to see a huge jump in numbers come January and even into February from the Christmas and New Year's Eve holidays.

- And you said the worst is yet to come. Hearing that is always worrisome for Americans, especially coming from a doctor. There's a vaccine that's being rolled out. What are your thoughts on the federal rollout out of the vaccine so far?

JESSICA OSTERMAN: I will say at least in California and in LA, we've been very fortunate that all the kind of first responders and front liners at the hospital have received that vaccine. But from reading the news and things like that, I think the goal to vaccinate a larger number of people has not quite been met yet. And even with the rollouts, I think that we're not looking until I would say this summer, even this fall until that herd immunity really takes effect and we really see significant drops in the numbers of patients that we're seeing.

- So when we hear the stories about potential rationing of emergency care-- there was a headline about that-- is that really happening? What does that look like?

JESSICA OSTERMAN: Right now, it's not happening quite yet in LA County. We've been kind of briefed on it with the expectation that this may be something in our future. But as I say, we are running out of spaces in almost every hospital in LA County. Almost every hospital has been on diversion, meaning they're not accepting ambulance runs and the ambulances have to get into kind of a round robin to find a hospital that can take their patients.

And I have heard some smaller hospitals are running out of oxygen and things like that already at this point. And so I do, as I say, think that if we do see a surge post Christmas and New Year's Eve, we're going to find ourselves in a situation where we just don't have the resources and the spaces to treat people. And I don't think any of us are looking forward to making those type of decisions, because, you know, we all got into medicine to help people. And the fact that we may have to make decisions like that is really heartbreaking.

- And are you getting any new information in terms of metrics, in terms of what Governor Gavin Newsom wants in terms of vaccinations of Californians in January?

JESSICA OSTERMAN: Yeah, I haven't heard any specific metrics. I know that across the board most of the hospital staff have been vaccinated in most of the hospitals around LA and in the Bay Area. I have several friends up there. And I think they are starting to do some of the seniors and the nursing home residents right now.

So my hope is if we can start really rolling out the vaccination program and get those vaccines to those people that are the most vulnerable, we have a solid chance of kind of slowing the spread of this at least and getting this a little more under control than it is right now.

- All right, we appreciate your joining us. And we do wish you and the medical staff, everybody in Southern California, the best as we head to the New Year. Dr. Jessica Osterman, emergency medicine physician from Los Angeles. Thanks for being here.