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'In many cases, this is a really a first wave' of COVID-19 cases in U.S.: Doctor

Board Certified Preventive Medicine Specialist & True Health Initiative President Dr. David Katz joins Yahoo Finance’s Heidi Chung to discuss concerns over a second wave of the coronavirus and a timeline on a vaccine.

Video Transcript

HEIDI CHUNG: There are now more than two million COVID-19 cases and 112,000 deaths here in the US. Some states that reopened earlier are seeing a surge in cases. Dr. David Katz is a board certified specialist in preventative medicine. And he's also Public Health and True Health Initiative president as well.

Doctor, thank you so much for being here. I want to get your thoughts first on this idea that we're expecting a second wave of COVID-19 cases. States like Texas, Arizona, North Carolina are starting to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases in their respective states. So how concerned are you here?

DAVID KATZ: Nice to join you, Heidi. I think in many cases, this is really a first wave. So clearly, New York City was hit by a wave, and it washed over New York. Frankly, I think in New York, we kind of closed the barn door after the horses were out. So there was wide level exposure, particularly in the city, people riding the subway. It may be that most people vulnerable to getting the infection in New York City got it.

And by the way, there's some reassuring news there. Maybe a significant percentage of the population has some relative resistance to this infection because of past coronavirus infections. That's something that's still a matter of conjecture.

But in many parts of the country, there was minimal exposure. People followed the rules, sheltered in place, social distanced. And now there's sort of a haphazard return to the world without a lot of care, without reliable use in some places of masks and personal protective equipment. So I think it's a first wave.

So you know, I think the big concerns that pandemic experts express about a second wave would be after viral transmission in the country goes to something near zero or maybe disappears over the summer, as often happens with the flu. Will it, in fact, come back and infect vulnerable people in the fall? That remains to be seen. Nobody really knows. Past pandemics have done that. But we can't know because this is a different scenario.

But I think expecting cases to spike in those parts of the country that were never hard hit in the first place, that's really a first wave. And if they're not careful about protecting the vulnerable, those spikes in cases could lead to spikes in mortality, overburdening the medical system. That shouldn't happen. We've learned enough to prevent that. But it really depends on state policies.

HEIDI CHUNG: And doctor, protests across the US and around the world have subsided substantially. But they still are ongoing. And initially, when those protests erupted, a lot of people were concerned that we would see a huge uptick in COVID-19 cases. So the theory that these super spreader events will be dangerous for the future of the recovery, what are your thoughts just overall on that whole concept of [INAUDIBLE].

DAVID KATZ: Yeah. Good question. I fully support the civil protests, peaceful protests. This is a critical issue. Addressing matters of racism in our country is absolutely essential. But on the other hand, worst possible way to exit a pandemic, right? So we were social distancing and personal protection. And then we basically had mass mayhem.

And even if peaceful, if you're in a big crowd, if you're shouting, if you're getting worked up, if you're sweating, if you're jostling, there's physical contact. There's a high probability of droplets being transmitted through the air. It's basically a worst case scenario to avoid super spreader event.

So if anybody in that crowd is infected with COVID-19 and can transmit, certainly close proximity, passions flaring, droplets flying, you know, really bad scenario. So you know, all we can do, I think under the circumstances, is encourage people who are participating in protests to be as careful as possible about personal protection. The masks really would-- if everybody's wearing masks in that situation, it would certainly make a difference.

But yeah, you definitely would not want the end of the greatest infectious disease crisis in living memory to conclude with, hey, let's transition immediately, with nothing in between, to mass public protests and basically, you know, sparring with police. Because everything about that has super spreader written all over it.

HEIDI CHUNG: And doctor, a lot of hope on a potential treatment or vaccine. Just today, we heard that Regeneron is looking to start a human trial. We have Madonna looking to start a trial in July. So in your expert opinion, what kind of timeline is realistic here? And should we keep our hopes up at this point?

DAVID KATZ: Sure. Let's keep our hopes up. No reason not to do that, Heidi. But, you know, we have several issues here to contend with. The first is we have difficulty getting people to make use of vaccines that are time honored, reliable, safe, effective. And this is going to be a new one on a fast track timeline.

It's only going to be effective if it works, if it's very safe, if it's mass produced, if it's universally distributed, and if people accept it. And we've got this strong anti-vax sentiment in the country. So I worry that we may be banking too much on a vaccine, thinking that it's a panacea when, in fact, there are many impediments to that being the ultimate public health solution, the public response to a vaccine among them. So again, it has to be safe, it has to be effective, it has to be proven, mass produced, university distributed, and everybody has to be willing to roll up their sleeves and get it.

I think we can be hopeful, but we really don't know the timeline. And the fact that you have promising results in the early phases of research doesn't guarantee you're going to run that full gauntlet and get to safe, effective, mass produceable. So I think we need to manage our interaction with the virus between now and then in a way that allows for another all clear.

And I've argued from the start, there are massive risk differentials, Heidi, associated with COVID. It's a really bad disease in old sick people. It's a really mild disease almost all the time-- not all the time, but almost all the time-- in young healthy people. So when young healthy people get exposed, more often than not, they get the infection, they get over it, they make antibodies.

That, in fact is, the equivalent of what we would hope a vaccine would do-- make people immune. So there are other paths to herd immunity. And then lastly, with regard to treatment, absolutely, medical treatment-- and I volunteered, did several shifts in the emergency department on the frontlines in the Bronx and saw the incredibly rapid evolution of clinical protocol.

So treatment is improving literally by the day. And so as we deal with severe cases, the outcome is much more likely to be good than bad than it was even a couple of weeks ago. And that trajectory, I think, will continue.

HEIDI CHUNG: All right, Dr. David Katz, thank you so much for your great insights today.

DAVID KATZ: Pleasure being with you. Thank you.