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Both State and NYC Departments of Health have done a fantastic job: Doctor on COVID-19 response in NY

Dr. Stella Safo, Vote Health Co-Founder; NYC-based HIV primary care physician joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down her thoughts on New York's response to COVID-19 and what we should expect going forward.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We want to bring into this discussion Dr. Stella Safo, Vote Health co-founder, a New York City based HIV primary care physician. It's good to have you here. Dr. Safo, I don't know if you've had a chance to get up to speed with the latest from Governor Cuomo. But apparently, they're creating in New York state a kind of a new healthcare program to coordinate inoculation for all the rest of us. Seems a little late to get that going, isn't it?

STELLA SAFO: So, I will say, you know, New York state has had a tremendous time getting in front of COVID. We were the first state to be really hit with the pandemic in the springtime. And then, we went through maintaining low numbers over the summer, and then kind of making it through the fall and winter.

So the Department of Health and the State Department in New York City Department of Health I think have done a really fantastic job, trying to, as much as they can, to stay ahead of the curve. And you have to understand that they're also doing testing, tracing, treatments. And now, they're adding vaccines to it.

So, the 1A rollout has been for medical personnel and nursing home residents. And now, we're able to bring on 1B individuals, who would be folks over 75 and essential workers, in addition to a few others, including teachers. So, it's not optimal, but thinking about what New York has been dealing with, it's something that I think we should be glad for how much they have been able to do.

SEANA SMITH: Hey, Dr. Safo, it's Seana. I was reading over the weekend, and I saw it in a couple different places. And people were making the arguments that we have these policies in place, just as who is qualified at this point to get a vaccine. But that is actually slowing the inoculations that we're seeing nationwide. What do you make of that? Do you think that there's any truth, I guess, to that? And there should be-- or there is an argument to be made that we should be, I guess, rolling back some of those restrictions and making it more available to more Americans?

STELLA SAFO: Yeah, that's a good point because I think the fear is that by trying to follow the rules so carefully, which I think is important, what's happening is that states that may have some doses ready to go, or even hospital systems that may have exhausted their supply of giving it to first-time medical workers and nursing home residents are kind of sitting there, thinking, well, we're ready to go to the next. Can we start already?

And so, there's this real tension between, how do we make sure that we're following the guidelines-- and as you've seen, there have been some consequences for folks who are giving vaccines out of turn to the wrong group. But also, just the ethics of it-- we want to give it to the folks who are most at risk for getting COVID first.

And so, that fear has really had to meet up against the reality that it's a bit of a sloppy process. As you finish one group and other groups are ready, do you make them wait? Do you kind of keep it pretty fluid? And I think it gets to the questions earlier about how prepared were we.

And I think that what we're seeing at on the ground and what we're talking about in the medical community is, we are not, as health systems and as public health departments, kind of ready to think about inoculating millions of people. That's something that we usually get guidance and support from the federal government.

And so, I think that this is really bringing us to the place of saying, we need backup, and we really do need the guidance because, otherwise, you're going to see what you've just described, which is a bit of a fractured movement from group to group.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So, Dr. Safo, we're going to have a guest in the 4 o'clock hour from the American Hospital Association. He's going to reiterate what you just said, but raises the question-- I'm curious if you think it's achievable. Dr. Fauci has said 75% of the population are inoculated by the end of May. Is that realistic?

STELLA SAFO: It would be absolutely realistic if we did a couple of things. And one of them centers around getting more bodies on the ground to give the vaccinations. So, thinking about using the National Guard, using the military, using the resources that are used to doing this very wide scale kind of rollout. I think it makes a lot of sense to target hospitals and health systems and community centers.

But if you're talking about millions of individuals, you have to get to a scale that, honestly, a lot of these areas have never had to deal with before. So Fauci, who's always right, in some ways, could absolutely be right that we could meet that metric by May. But we would have to change the playbook almost completely than what we're doing now.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Safo, what are your expectations just as what we could see over the next several weeks, as we have this new strain in the US. It's more contagious. We have record number of hospitalizations. Right now, the daily new count rate is not too far from record highs, over 22 million COVID cases in total in the US. What's it going to look like in a couple of months?

STELLA SAFO: I think it's going to look bleak in the short term. I think that the holidays with people getting together, we're seeing now the outcomes of that would be increased infection. And then, as you know, the deaths follow from there.

What's really more concerning is that there are certain areas and parts of this country where people still don't, despite the more infectious agents that are going around, folks are still not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. And as long as that is the case, COVID is now community wide. And it's going to continue to spread at the rates that we're seeing. And so, the game that individuals are focusing on now is to really get the vaccine rates as high as we can.

I would argue, as someone in public health, that it never stops us, though, from going back to what we know works, which is masks, social distancing, and all of the other things that we've talked about to really make sure that we can kind of maintain most folks to be healthy in the first part of this pandemic.

So, as we're fighting this game to get as many shots in people's arms as we can-- and as you heard, Biden has a really nice way of maybe getting all the vaccine doses out, and we'll just kind of go forward from there. As we're fighting that battle, the other battle has to be to continue to implement those public health measures that, again, we know absolutely work.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All right. We appreciate your being here. Once again, Dr. Stella Safo, Vote Health co-founder, New York City based HIV primary care physician, all the best to you. And we look forward to our next discussion as we get closer to, hopefully, Dr. Fauci being correct, and all of us are inoculated by the end of May.