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U.S. needs to ‘insist on mass vaccination': NewYork Presbyterian Hospital CEO

Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland, Julie Hyman, and Brian Sozzi speak with NewYork Presbyterian Hospital CEO, Dr. Steven J. Corwin, about the surge in COVID-19 cases and vaccine outlook.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: Dr. Corwin, thanks for joining the program. Let's begin with what you are seeing inside of your hospital system right now and how concerned you are or how comfortable you are with the ability for your-- your hospital staff right now to handle the amount of COVID cases and perhaps the expected number of COVID cases in the weeks ahead.

STEVEN CORWIN: Well, we're at about 10% of where our peak was in the March, April timeframe, which was clearly horrific for us. We expect it to rise over the next month to month and a half, just given the trends that we're seeing. And we believe that we can handle it, but certainly, with Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays coming up, and what we're seeing around the rest of the country, we're certainly not sanguine about saying that we've got a completely under control.

I'm happy with where we are right now in terms of protective equipment, ventilators. We're still short of reagents for testing. And that's becoming a nationwide issue.

And staffing is going to be a nationwide issue, because if you recall, during the pandemic, we were able to get staff from around the country. Now the entire country is seeing this wave. And so we have to worry about protecting staff and making sure that staff doesn't get sick so that they can come to work.

JULIE HYMAN: Dr. Corwin, as of today, the New York City public school system is closed down once again. It had been doing blended learning, that's as the city's infection rate reaches 3%. This has been a very controversial decision to shut down the schools. What do you make of it, given the cases that you've seen in the hospital and given what we know about children being or not being a vector of infection?

STEVEN CORWIN: Well, it was a difficult choice the first time around. And the mayor and the governor got heavily criticized for waiting too long. Certainly, in terms of children learning, it's a negative to close schools. There's no question about it.

I think with the 3% positivity rate, the mayor felt compelled to do it. Look, the-- the rationale for-- for that we can debate in terms of, will the kids get sick, and what's the infection rate within the schools? Are they-- are they conveying the infection? But the reality is, since this pandemic occurred, we're titrating between how much opening can we would stand without creating an excess of infections and deaths.

So difficult for me to criticize the decision. Certainly, there was a lot of thought that went into it at both the state and the city level. But anytime you close something, somebody is going to be injured by closing it. There's no question about.

BRIAN SOZZI: Dr. Cohen, as the infections have picked back up and the cases have picked back up, are you able at the same time to plan to the extent that you would like to vaccinate the public?

STEVEN CORWIN: Well, I think that one of the problems with the current transition between the Biden administration and the Trump administration or lack of transition is that lack of transparency around, do we understand how the vaccines, plural, are going to be distributed? How much will we get? And then what's the prioritization of that?

The state has developed, New York state, has developed an extensive plan once the vaccine is received. And we anticipate that in that first wave not all of our frontline health care workers will be able to be vaccinated. So we have to prioritize various groupings in terms of where we think the risk is.

I also think it's incredibly important nationally that we have an education program about the vaccine, that we insist on mass vaccination, because I think that's our way to get out of this. And I think I'm hoping that by the April, May timeframe, we will really have had a ramp up in production to be able to allow for mass vaccination. But we've got to educate the public. We've got to make sure that people don't feel that they're being experimented upon. So we have to start that right now.

MYLES UDLAND: And, Dr. Corwin, I want to ask about operational hospital outside of COVID. A major concern among the health care community back in the spring is that people were not able to come in for procedures. They might be termed elective, but they really are things they needed. What have you seen in your hospital over the last couple of months? Are people still reticent to enter that setting, or are you able to care for the patients that you want to and need to normally care for, in addition to COVID?

STEVEN CORWIN: We've gotten back to about 90 plus percent of our pre-COVID volumes. The emergency departments still are shy of where they were. So we are encouraging people to seek care.

We've dramatically changed our procedures for seeing patients. We've dramatically increased the amount of telehealth that we're doing so that we can provide primary care, preventive care, as well as follow-up care. So that's been good.

I'm hopeful that we can continue that during this next surge. But we do have levels of surge, where at a certain point we're not going to be able to do what would be called elective cases or in different parlance anything except emergencies. In the first go round, we were so overwhelmed, the only thing we can care for other than COVID was the true emergencies.

JULIE HYMAN: Dr. Corwin, New York Presbyterian is a teaching hospital? Is that correct?

STEVEN CORWIN: Yes, it is.

JULIE HYMAN: So I'm curious what effect the pandemic has had on the incoming class and future classes. In other words, are more people wanting to enter the medical industry as a result of this-- fewer? What is the next wave of staffing and next generation of doctors going to look like as a result of all this?

STEVEN CORWIN: Well, we actually have more people wanting to go into health care, because they've seen the altruism and the importance of health care, in general, whether it's nursing, pharmacy, physicians. So I'm very encouraged by that. And I will tell you that our residents and fellows, the trainees did a remarkable job during the course of the pandemic redeploying to make sure that we could care for all the COVID patients. And they didn't extraordinary job. And we would not have been able to get through the crisis without our trainees, as well as our attending physicians. So I'm very hopeful about the future of medicine in this country and think that we've got terrific young men and women coming into the field.