Infectious Diseases Doctor & Professor of Medicine at UCSF, Dr. Monica Gandhi joined Yahoo FInance Live to break down the risk of getting COVID-19 and the what vaccinations mean for your community.
- Dr. Gandhi, thank you so much for joining us, and we're talking about some upbeat news here in the US as it relates to COVID-19, the numbers, when you look at the fully vaccinated Americans. I want to ask you this because I'm now fully vaccinated. I hit the two-week immunity period, but how should we think about going about our lives now that we are fully vaccinated? When I go outside, I don't know, should I keep my mask on? It's just kind of a different territory to navigate now? How are you thinking about that?
MONICA GANDHI: Yeah, it's a strange time because some of us are vaccinated, and some of us are half vaccinated, some of us are fully vaccinated, and it's this kind of transition period. And so we have seen that a lot of people sort of making decisions for themselves what they feel comfortable with. For example, outside transmission is very low even regardless of vaccination status. There was probably the best study on this was from Wuhan, China that 1 out of 7,324 cases in they're very tightly contact tracing study was linked to outside transmission. So it's hard to get COVID-19 outside.
So the CDC did recommend that vaccinated people can be outside without a mask last week, and even unvaccinated likely, again, unless you're in a big crowd, it's really about outside transmission being low and not your vaccination status. In terms of inside activities, the CDC and everyone is thinking that you can be together with other vaccinated people inside unmasked, un-distanced. Now, more and more of us are going to be in that situation, but when you're in that in-between period, it's what you feel comfortable with. Vaccines do block transmission to another person.
- Well, let's talk about people who might not be vaccinated. How quick is it when you're inside? How long do you have to be inside to have a serious potential for exposure that would make you ill?
MONICA GANDHI: Well, the interesting thing, I mean, usually, exposure is defined as 15 minutes next to someone who has COVID. The interesting and important thing to remember right now is our cases are dropping in the United States. We're at 32,000, which is actually the lowest it's been since the summer, and we're about a negative 27% decrease over the last 14 days. So your risk of getting COVID is not just your vaccination status, but the risk of COVID in the community, cases in the community.
And as those cases go down, even as an unvaccinated person, you're not going to be standing next to someone who's likely to have COVID. We have 20 cases in the city of San Francisco, 896,000 people yesterday. Very hard for me to be around someone who has COVID.
- And I realize that the numbers are working in our favor now, but again, to this issue of being inside, does the virus live 10 minutes, 15 minutes, an hour in the air, or is it heavy enough to fall on its own to the ground? How long does it live, and does it stay airborne, or does it fall?
MONICA GANDHI: Well, there is still actually controversy around this, but this is the best way that I would say it as a simple way to think about it. Outside, it doesn't live well at all. It just counts down the air in the heat and humidity. Inside, it will live longer, and it will pass when you are next to someone in a closer place, especially if you're not masked. So think of indoor, unventilated close settings as more dangerous, and 15 minutes is the standard time that we think that it will live if you were standing next to someone who has COVID.
So the way to think of that is, they're moving in and out, fine. You're not next to someone, but if you're close to someone for 15 minutes who has COVID, that is the time that it can live.
- And doctor, as we start to think about the reopenings, reopenings of businesses, offices, how should companies or businesses start to think about this new phase that we'll be entering in? What are the guidelines they should be considering?
MONICA GANDHI: You know, every company will be able, probably in this kind of private setting, to decide about vaccination status for their employees. So for example, the way to think of it and then go by the CDC guidelines is, vaccinated people don't have to be different around each other than they were in 2019. Vaccinated people can be around vaccinated people. It's when you get that mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated that they're distancing and masking and ventilation needs to come into play.
And so you can think of a company as deciding here's a vaccinated section and an unvaccinated section. All my safety precautions over here in unvaccinated. Vaccinated, I can be going back to where we are safe, and we can be around each other. Or a company can and have decided at times to say, everyone has to be vaccinated before we come back. So I think every company is going to decide differently.
Testing will be done if someone is symptomatic, and they've been vaccinated. That's the CDC guidelines. Don't test asymptomatic people, if you've had an exposure, if you're vaccinated because you're so safe, but test if you're symptomatic, after you've had an exposure and you're vaccinated.