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U.S. coronavirus cases surge as voters head to the polls

Dr. Stella Safo, Vote Health Co-founder And Hiv Primary Care Physician, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the surging COVID-19 cases and what it could mean for the U.S. Presidential election.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: More on where we stand in the pandemic and also just what needs to be done to curb this outbreak, we want to bring in Dr. Stella Safo. She's a New-York-based HIV primary care physician and also the co-founder of Vote Health. And Dr. Safo, great to have you on the program.

Today's Election Day, and we have that seven-day average of new cases hitting a record high. I was going through your notes, and you were saying just that one of the most important things that we should focus on once every vote has been counted and that's coming together is that the country needs to address COVID. And when you take a look at what needs to be addressed, how do you think-- or I guess, what's your best advice on the best way to do this? And Dr. Safo, if you can also unmute yourself as you answer.

STELLA SAFO: I mean, I think that so far, what we've seen is in the places where we have pretty strong leadership-- and I'll cite New York as one of those places-- we've been able to control what started out as a totally out-of-control pandemic that had spread and killed over 33,000 individuals. So we know that with the right kind of leadership, we can get this under control.

And what we're looking at now as we're heading into not a second surge, but a third surge is that we need a coordinated effort. Because what's happening in some of these states is that some governors are able to put in measures that are helpful, but you know, our state borders are porous. And so if you're having individuals come from other states where there isn't a strong of a response, you're not going to end up being able to maintain the benefits that you've gotten to date. And so that's why I think, you know, once these elections are done, the most important thing that we need to be focusing on as a country is a coordinated response versus what we've had to date, which is a state-level response.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Dr. Safo, for I love New York City. I moved here without a job and sold everything I owned years ago-- it breaks my heart when I walk the streets here, though, because we are all-- thank God-- it's much less of a threat right now than it was back in March and April, but businesses are boarded up. They're empty. There-- restaurants that I used to go to are closed. All those people are out of work.

So that coordinated response-- you know, when people say the cure, perhaps, is as bad as the ailment-- listen, life is always sacrosanct and first, but we've got to keep people working, too. So what do you think that coordinated response looks like?

STELLA SAFO: I think it's an excellent point that you're making. You have to remember, though, that at the time when New York shut down 1,000%, what was happening is that we didn't know much about COVID. The rates were spreading so rapidly, and our mortality was really high because we didn't have the-- you know, the measures that we have now-- convalescent serum pronine, Dexamethasone, all of the things that we know now we didn't know then. So if you got COVID then, you were looking at a death sentence. And we were facing, you know, this issue of the surge.

One of the benefits of any state that's looking at how to, you know, maintain COVID now is you can look at a New York, you can learn from our example. It definitely makes sense, I think, to be maintaining this idea of how do we stay economically strong and put a few things into place that will help.

And those few things are so minimal and yet so effective, and it's things like enforcing a mask mandate, right? Enforcing, you know, the prevention of large crowds that are gathered. If you did those two things, you'd be able to maintain your rates at a-- you know, in a way where you wouldn't then have to have the shutdowns that you've seen, you know, that we're so kind of complete in New York at a time where we knew very, very little about this disease.

I will also say, New York is very dynamic. You know, yes, some of the big restaurants and some of the big businesses are gone, but so much has been modified. And New York is still thriving and very, very strong.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Safo, we're entering a very difficult period with the pandemic. We just heard Anjalee talking about what Dr. Birx was saying, just in terms of the fact that we're entering the most concerning and deadly phase of this. With that in mind, I'm curious just from your personal perspective and the colleagues that you've been talking to, how are they feeling about where we stand right now in the pandemic?

STELLA SAFO: People are feeling incredibly desperate. You know, the president talks about how clinicians are benefiting from COVID by being able to treat patients and get more money. That isn't the case. My colleagues are burned out. And in medicine, we're kind of used to burn-- you know, being burned out. You get burned out when you do residency. You get burned out from the hours.

This is a different kind of burnout. We're seeing colleagues that are getting sick and die. We're seeing colleagues that are committing suicide. We're seeing colleagues that are retiring months or years early just to get out of the profession.

So for us, this election is really exciting because it represents a moment to say, we need new leadership. We need to change things up. We, as clinicians, will always be there taking care of our patients, but it doesn't make sense to be taking care of our patients if we don't have a strategy that's going to help us.

And we're heading into a second wave, into a third wave. We can't do this indefinitely. So I would say, among your health care colleagues, we are tired. We are frustrated. And we really want to see the kind of leadership-- again, a national, coordinated response-- that will help us get this pandemic under control.

ADAM SHAPIRO: When you were talking about some of the treatments that now exist that didn't exist at the beginning of the pandemic, I remember, we were all wearing the masks-- and still do every day-- as a way to help the health care workers on the front lines not get inundated, which they were at the start. But even with treatments, are the hospitals prepared for people who might survive the ailment but to be inundated again? Where do we stand on that?

STELLA SAFO: So I mean, It's so interesting. I do HIV primary care, and so I'm out in the ambulatory sites. And I've seen quite a few patients who've had COVID who come and have chronic fatigue. They have all kinds of different conditions that they didn't have before that require them to see their primary providers more.

So what you're going to see as we have these rates of COVID is we may not lose as many people. You know, the mortality may be somewhat reduced, but we're going to have a lot of morbidity. So you're going to have people who are going to have, you know, conditions that come from having COVID for the long term. And these will be neurologic, ophthalmologic. And you know, it kind of goes down the gambit.

So it raises this question of not just, you know, do we have immediate capacity, but how are we, as a health care system, going to handle some more chronic conditions that come as a sequelae from individuals having had COVID? Again, it comes back to, we have to get really innovative and smart, and we have to be thinking-- not just to put out the fire that's right in front of us, we have to be thinking two, three, four steps ahead of how the health care system will be able to support us long term.