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U.S. COVID-19 cases surpass 18 million, death toll tops 335,000

Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi, Julie Hyman, and Myles Udland discuss the latest news in the COVID-19 pandemic with Dr. Thomas McGinn, VP of Physician Enterprise for CommonSpirit.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: Well, as 2020 wraps up, we continue to see the pandemic raging across the country. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all at troubling levels. This, as vaccine rollout slowly but surely getting underway here in the US. And joining us now to talk more about the state of the pandemic in the health care system, we're joined by Dr. Thomas McGinn. He's the Vice President of Physician Enterprise over at CommonSpirit. Dr. McGinn, thanks so much for joining the program today.

I'd like to just begin with your assessment of the state of the pandemic within the health care system. If we go back to the spring, flattening the curve was about alleviating stresses on the system. As we stand here today, where are those stresses still?

THOMAS MCGINN: Well, we still have a lot of stress, different regions at different places. Right now, particularly in Southern California and Phoenix, particularly in our health system, we're under tremendous amount of stress. It's the highest numbers we've seen. Across our system, we're about 3,100 cases, which is higher than we saw back in the spring. I think here in New York you're seeing an uptick. Not quite as bad as you did have at the beginning of the pandemic, but it's inching up every day.

JULIE HYMAN: And, go ahead, Myles, sorry.

MYLES UDLAND: And we we, yeah, sorry. Dr. McGinn, as we continue to see those numbers rise, of course, the vaccine is here in some amount. How much are you working on the rollout plan when it does arrive in a more kind of mass audience type way? Or is it still we need to get through this wave before you can begin thinking about vaccinating anyone other than your front line workers and your absolute most vulnerable patients?

THOMAS MCGINN: Well, I mean it is an interesting place that we're in right now. I always say we're in this light at the end of the tunnel mode, where we can see the light with the vaccine. But we're in the long tunnel. And the vaccine right now is strictly going out to health care workers, as you pointed out. And I think we're not going to be hitting our patients out in the community probably until the late spring. Because we still have a long way to go with our health care workers. And then we're going to, once we get through that process, we're going to start giving it out to average citizens.

JULIE HYMAN: And Dr. McGinn, CommonSpirit is the largest non-profit health system I believe, in the country. You're talking about 137 hospitals. And you oversee the physicians there, if I understand your role correctly. We've heard a lot about shortages during this pandemic. And so I just wanted to know, especially when you have such a large system at your disposal, what you're seeing in terms of shortages, in terms of staffing, in terms of morale as well, among your workers.

THOMAS MCGINN: Well, I think everybody's heard a lot about staffing issues. And we're holding our own. I mean, I think as I mentioned in Southern California, we have unprecedented numbers of cases, and we're managing those cases, we have enough staffing. I think what we're all worried about is what you just said on that second point, which is staffing morale. Many of these folks are going through, it's almost like your third deployment. Going out, and they're really getting tired.

And when we talk to them, our biggest concern right now is keeping them, keeping them upbeat, keeping them fed and supported in any way we can. But I do fear with the holidays, we're going to have another surge, and it's not, it's both that staffing, but that morale. I think that, to me, is number one, two and three issue for us.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, CommonSpirit does a fair amount of work with lower income households in those, living in under-served communities. How are you going to roll out a plan? How are you going to get them to take the vaccine? Take us through some of the steps you're doing to ensure that when the vaccine is available to this group, they in fact, go out and get it.

THOMAS MCGINN: Well, there's a lot we're doing in our educational campaigns. We're having, actually, many of our, we have several hundred clinics scattered throughout all the different communities. So we are engaging our communities locally, working with all our leadership in those communities, and using a lot of vaccine campaigns, demonstrate, as you've seen in the media with movie stars and things to that affect, showing all our health care providers getting their own vaccines.

And I think one thing that people don't understand, is about, a large percentage, I don't know what, it was probably 30% of patients who are hesitant can be pushed over that finish line just in a conversation with a doctor or a nurse. So we're making sure that they have availability to talk to the doctors, to the nurses in all of their communities, to have that conversation and get them over that hump.

JULIE HYMAN: Doctor, in your prior role at Northwell, you helped start a program where people who were even more acute cases of COVID we're getting care at home. And so I'm wondering now that you're in this role, what are some of the other creative solutions that you all are trying to come up with to deal with this pandemic, whether it is what we were just discussing, getting the vaccine out there or also treating patients.

THOMAS MCGINN: It's a great point. Most patients never walk into a hospital. And I think this is something that the media tends to miss out on. It's probably 80% of all COVID patients are treated, diagnosed at home. And then you have to look at all the patients that are getting discharged and they're going home. So like the program that you mentioned, we're also building this at CommonSpirit, and it's a multidisciplinary team of nurses, have to have oxygen, we have to have blood work done at home. All of these things can be done virtually.

So all these programs have been ramped up rapidly across our health system. So it's really a multidisciplinary, I wouldn't call it a hospital, at home, but I would call it sort of a mini hospital, at home. And we can, one patient that's not feeling well goes to the emergency room might get admitted. That same patient, if given the right resources and support, can be cared for at home. They do better, and we keep them out of a crowded hospital. And that's something we're really working on at CommonSpirit. There's a lot more we can do in that space.

MYLES UDLAND: Well, and Doctor, that gets to, I think it gets to my next question, which is, what is the future of health care like after the pandemic? I mean, as a concerned citizen, I remember sitting in my apartment in March being like, and at the time, I actually had COVID. I didn't know it, but I did. And so I was like, well, I can't go to the hospital, because I can't get in and it seems like this thing is over-stressed.

And it just didn't make me feel very good about where this whole thing was at. So how are you thinking, if at all right now, obviously, we're still in the middle of it, about what the next decade or two looks like for health care? I mean, is at-home care something that you think and hope will be more applicable when COVID is indeed contained?

THOMAS MCGINN: Well, you look great, so congratulations on getting through your COVID very well. So that's good to know. And actually, the vast majority of people do well, and that's the other thing people need to be aware of. So I think this has done tremendous things on innovation for care at home and virtual care. And we were all going through this process as we had, we went, talk about a surge.

We surged in our virtual care, our ability to care for people at home. We went from just kind of starting that process to now really going way high in the volume of patients that we see at home. So I think it is something that we are strategically working on now. And a lot of this has to do with bringing more convenient care to our patients. And we can do that through virtual care. We can do that through other mechanisms that we're all forced to deal with in a way that was unprecedented in the history of health care.

So I think all of us are sitting back and trying to think, what is that new normal going to look like. What percent of care will now be completely virtual? What does that do to the waiting room? What does that do to the examining room? Is it that 30% of care is going to go virtual? Is it going to be in primary care, is it going to be specialty care? Where is that going to happen?

The good news for patients, is that it's going to be better for patients because going to be easier access and more patient-oriented, which is what we're driving at CommonSpirit. We had unprecedented amount of virtual care, and our patients are so happy with this. So it's really what does that new normal going to look like, is something we're all strategically planning for.

MYLES UDLAND: All right, Dr. Thomas McGinn, Vice President with CommonSpirit. Dr. McGinn, thanks so much for joining the program today and have a great new year.

THOMAS MCGINN: Thanks. Have a happy new year.