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U.S. averages record 70k COVID-19 cases a day over a week

Preventive medicine specialist & True Health Initiative president Dr. David Katz joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss the U.S. averaging more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases a day over a week.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: The US is averaging right now over 70,000 cases a day over a week, which is breaking records as lockdowns and curfews start to be imposed in some cities, I've mentioned Newark and El Paso. So we're joined now by Dr. David Katz, a preventative medicine specialist and True Health Initiative president. Doctor, so yesterday we were talking with an emergency room physician who said that we were in the midst of a second wave. Wondering if that is true as you see it for the country as a whole, or is this really just happening in pockets and in some areas of the country?

DAVID KATZ: Well, first of all, Kristin, good to be with you again. Tempted to ask, are we having fun yet? You know, Tony Fauci just said this is the continuation of a first wave. That's really my impression.

We have not yet seen any place that was hit hard once get a whole lot better and be hit hard again. So, for example, hospitalizations are not going up in my part of the country, the Northeast. They're not going up in New York City. We had our peak, vulnerable people got sick, it seems to have washed over us and gone away. We haven't been hit again.

What we are seeing though is parts of the country that did manage to lock down before they had high levels of viral circulation come out, somewhat indiscriminately, back to the world, right? We've sort of liberated ourselves because of pandemic fatigue and other factors. We're not being careful enough. There are parts of the country that are somewhat dismissive of the viral threat, and we're seeing high levels of not just cases there, which really doesn't bother me all that much, we can talk more about that, but we're starting to see hospitals fill up in places around the country, in Texas, in Arizona, in areas of the country that were not hard hit previously.

So, arguably, that's still all part of a first wave. But you know, at this point, I don't know that it matters all that much. You know, we're coming on a full year of exposure to the pandemic, and once we get into the early going of 2021, we'll be into our second year of this. Whether it's all one long wave or second wave, you know, I don't know that it really helps us address what needs to be done now, and that's what we need to be thinking about.

And by the way, Kristin, if I may just briefly you. We're talking about the election and whether or not it matters to the markets, and you have other experts to address that. I would say from the perspective of a scientist and a public health physician, the single thing that matters most to me is our ability as a nation to look at data together and reach informed conclusions and not let diatribe get in the way.

Our ability to consider more than one point of view and acknowledge that nobody has a monopoly on truth and understanding, and we may need to meet in the middle and address the pandemic with some nuance. We need a new day, really, in America where that's possible again. And the divisiveness in our nation has been a major impediment to all of the policy actions we can and should be taking in response to the pandemic.

KRISTIN MYERS: Doctor, so I know you mentioned that really the focus needs to be on how we're tackling this pandemic, what we do next, as opposed to whether we are on a first wave, second wave, et cetera. But I do have to ask you because you say that we might not be in a second wave right now, and we're seeing these record highs of some of these daily case counts, these surges all around the country. So I have to ask you because when I hear that, I think that's terrifying you tell me that we're not in the second wave yet, and I think, and perhaps wrongly, and I-- maybe you can correct me here on this, that it's going to be getting much worse if a second wave is coming. Because at least everyone I seem to have talked to you before said that a second wave was likely and that we would definitely be facing one. So, I mean, how much worse really can it get, do you think it will get, especially as we head into the winter months, and we see people getting ill with the flu, for example?

DAVID KATZ: Right. Well, to be clear, Kristin, it doesn't need to get worse. We-- this far into the pandemic, we know how to protect ourselves. We know what-- we know that social distancing works. We know that masks trap viral particles and cut down the likelihood of exposure.

We know who the highly vulnerable are. We know that if you're over 80, you have to be extra careful. If you have chronic illness, you need to be extra careful.

I argued very early on, we need what I called hierarchical responsibility. Ideally, we'd have grown ups running the country and we'd have good federal policies, that's been very deficient. We need organizations to do a good job, and that's every business, every airport, every airline, every place where people congregate, those institutions need to use high standards. And then we need individuals to understand their own risk and the risk in their immediate networks, their families and loved ones that they live with and interact with, and take precautions accordingly. If we did that, it really wouldn't matter all that much that we have high levels of viral circulation, for example, on college campuses where virtually no one is getting sick.

We could take matters into our hands and prevent transmission to the parents and grandparents of those young people who really cannot safely get exposed. So I don't know exactly what's going to happen to hospitalization and mortality around the country, but the answer resides in our hands. We really do know how to protect ourselves.

There's also good news for those who do get hospitalized. The treatment protocols have advanced considerably, we've talked about that before. They get better all the time. So even if you do get severely ill with this, wind up in the hospital, the likelihood of recovery is much higher than it was months ago.

And in terms of a true second wave where we get over this in a hard hit area and are vulnerable again, everything I've seen-- and I think this is really important, everything I've seen about immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 says it's very much like all other viral pathogens. If you have a significant exposure, you get sick, you make protective antibodies, and they last. If you have a very mild exposure, you may not make those same protective antibodies, but you develop some degree of immunity. And if you're re-exposed, maybe you can get it again months later, but the second bout is apt to be even milder than the first.

All of this argues against indefinite vulnerability. Populations that are exposed and get through this are better defended against it if it circles back again. So I don't really see the big danger of a second wave that others are discussing. But since we're not yet out of the first wave washing over the country, we need to be really careful and take advantage of all the defenses we have learned about over the past six months or so.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, Doctor, I only have time for about one more question with you here. So I want to quickly ask you this about lockdowns. We're seeing this curfew being imposed in Newark, New Jersey. We're seeing this curfew in El Paso, Texas. However, several months ago, when the country first went into lockdowns, as I had mentioned a little bit earlier with Gareth, you know, we also had stimulus helping these businesses and some of these folks out, and we don't have stimulus anymore.

So many businesses, of course, are now struggling and will even struggle even more if we go into this state of lockdown. So how do we stem the tide, so to speak, if we don't go into any of these lockdowns? Is lockdowns, do you think, necessary, especially if this trend that we're seeing here in the United States continues, or can we do it perhaps in a targeted way, like Newark and El Paso is doing?

DAVID KATZ: So very quickly, Kristin, the economic ramifications of this your other guests are better qualified to discuss. I've been very concerned that when we have massive unemployment and disrupt what we call the social determinants of health, we are going to harm people. So the virus is not the only thing out there that can harm people. Losing your job, your livelihood, your ability to put food on the table harms people too. That worries me.

Lockdown is essentially what you do when you lack all nuance. And you know, again, I think the election's important. We've got to be able to talk to one another. We have to be able to think in a more nuanced way.

I think there is a better way and that would be risk stratified protection where we don't lock everything down, but we very carefully reinforce the protections for those who are vulnerable to getting very sick, which is not everybody. Young, healthy people are not prone to get very sick. To be clear, Sweden never locked down and has a much lower mortality rate per million population than the United States, lower. And they appear to be through this. They're not seeing a rise in case counts.

Japan never locked down. They were very careful with masks and distancing. They've had one of the lowest mortality rates of any country in the world, and they are not seeing a rise in case counts either. We have shining examples from other countries that did this far better than we did that lockdown is not the only way to get through this.

Essentially, that's the elephant gun aimed at a fly. We could much more specifically protect those who are highly vulnerable and save those livelihoods as well. It's not clear that we have the political will to do that, but maybe after next week, we will.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right. Well, it is always a pleasure to talk to you, even unfortunately about this really sad topic. Preventative Medicine Specialist Dr. David Katz, President of True Health Initiative, thanks for joining us today.

DAVID KATZ: Thank you.