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U.S. to open Canada, Mexico borders for vaccinated visitors

In this article:
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Dr. Rishi Desai, Chief Medical Officer at Osmosis & Former Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Officer, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest in the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now, for the latest on the coronavirus, the White House says seven million vaccinated Americans have already received a COVID-19 booster. Meantime, Florida has slapped a $3 and 1/2 million fine on one of its counties for enforcing vaccine passports.

Joining us now is Dr. Rishi Desai, chief medical officer at Osmosis and former Center for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic intelligence officer. We're also joined by Yahoo Finance's Karina Mitchell. Doctor, thanks so much for being with us. I want to start with the action there by Governor DeSantis in Florida. Now, he is citing freedom and privacy concerns as the primary basis for his ban on vaccine passports. As a medical professional, what's your response to that?

RISHI DESAI: Well, I think the key is that we're in a very unique situation, right? We're in the middle of a pandemic. This isn't a time when we can evaluate this without that context. So when you have hundreds of thousands of deaths in your country, you have to weigh that against concerns that he's bringing up. And I would say that the biggest imperative we have right now is to get our country back on track, to get our jobs back on track. We need to get past this pandemic.

And the best way to do that-- you know, we're not here like we were 18 months ago with no vaccine. We have a vaccine. We have a way to prevent this that's extremely impressive, very effective. We need to make sure people get it and that those that get it start getting their freedoms back. So it's an imperative for their freedoms to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated and that information is displayed very loudly and proudly and so that we can get this country back on track. And so that's what I would say to him.

KARINA MITCHELL: Hey, Dr. Desai, thanks so much for being here. Quick question for you. So if you're traveling into this country by air, you need to get a negative COVID test, right, 72 hours beforehand. But in this case, coming in from Canada, Mexico, that isn't required. So you could have proof of vaccination, you could come into this country, and you could actually be infected. Let's say you have a breakthrough case of the delta variant or something. There is no quarantine mandate so you could go out public, really, and potentially spread the virus.

So my question to you is, is this the best method of opening up? Or is somewhere like China, where there's a COVID zero policy or New Zealand, where, you know, restrictions are much more stringent. You come into the country, you must quarantine at an authorized facility for 21 days, unless you're someone like Nicole Kidman in Hong Kong shooting for a Netflix show or something. Which is the best method for opening up?

RISHI DESAI: So that's a great question. You know, the best method is the most conservative method. Like, if your goal is to minimize COVID risk, then you're right. You make sure people are vaccinated. You'd want to test them. Maybe you test them within 72 hours. Or if you want to be more stringent, maybe test them in 48 hours, or even more stringent, maybe test them the day of their flight, right? Like, you can kind of cramp it down if you wanted to.

The fact is, Mexico and Canada have lower rates of COVID than we do in the United States. In other words, the risk of a Mexican person or a Canadian person or an American person having COVID is not equal. The chances are highest if you're American. Our rates are the highest. We are the most risky of those three countries. And so, to really kind of come down hard on people that are lower risk is a little bit odd, you know?

Having said that, you're right. If you wanted to kind of minimize the risk, you do all those things, but you would probably start with Americans themselves, right? Like, you'd want Americans to be tested frequently. You'd want Americans to make sure they're vaccinated. In fact, if anything, the risk is for the visitor coming into this country. That risk is higher than the person that is already here and receiving the visitor.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, I want to ask you about something playing out in the sports world. We've got the Brooklyn Nets deciding to bench Kyrie Irving until he's vaccinated. It could cost the all-star guard $15 million if he decides to not get vaccinated. On the other side, you got Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors. He didn't want to get vaccinated. He finally did. He said it was a tough decision. But he said it came down to playing for the NBA or not.

One of the arguments here is that, look, why do I need to get vaccinated if I said I would agree to be tested as many times a week as you want me to? And we're hearing this play out not just in sports, but among health care workers as well. Is it enough if people don't get vaccinated to substitute that, if you will, with frequent testing?

RISHI DESAI: Look, the NBA is trying to comply with the laws that govern the states of California and New York. New York and California have made these rules that apply to every citizen in those states. Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving, they're phenomenal basketball players. They're still not above the law. They still have to comply with the laws of those states.

And so, in those states, it is not feasible to test every person living in California, every person living in New York and New Jersey. Like, it's just not feasible to do those things. And so it is much more feasible, it's much more reasonable to have a requirement to show that someone is vaccinated. And so if you want to comply with those laws in those states, the NBA is trying to play along with that, which makes sense to me. That's why they're doing this.

And I get it. I get that Andrew Wiggins and Kyrie have their own personal take on this, and I appreciate that. They're also ambassadors. Like it or not, they're role models for young kids. So they have that kind of dual responsibility. And I think that it's great that they're thinking through this in a public way. And I hope that they, at the end of the day, come to realize that the body of science is on the side of vaccines.

KARINA MITCHELL: And doctor, I just want to tack on to what Alexa says, because two New York court rulings went in really different directions. So teachers are not exempt, right, from getting the vaccination. They have to get it. But health care workers, temporarily, at least, are exempt based on religious reasons. Now I know you just said that you sort of favor everyone sort of doing the right thing and moving forward.

But don't you think that having these sort of two different rulings sort of confuses people and creates a sense of apathy, if you will? You know, why should I get this vaccine? The red line keeps changing. And do you personally feel that health care workers should be vaccinated? And if not, should they lose their jobs?

RISHI DESAI: You know, we live in a very messy democracy. And in a messy democracy, you're right. You know, judges make this ruling and that ruling. And it can be confusing. And you're right. Some people hear that, and they get confused. And then that confusion leads to apathy. Absolutely true.

Now, you asked about my personal take. My personal take is that if you're a health care worker, you agreed to first do no harm. Part of that is getting yourself protected as best you can. And part of that is getting vaccinated. So, yes, I do believe that a health care worker ought to get vaccinated.

Now, having said that, there is another value in this country, and that value is personal choice and freedom. And part of that freedom is religious freedom. And so, as we weigh these different values, it will get messy. And my hope, my fervent hope is that very soon, all of the judges will sort of have a body of law to fall back on, and that body will be grounded more in science than in any other kind of value, and that scientific principles will win out at the end of the day, given that we're still in this pandemic.

And I hope that all of these rulings will then kind of favor getting vaccinated. But, you know, it's not going to happen overnight. And so, while we're in the thick of it, we have to be patient and recognize that that confusion apathy can set in for some people.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, and we certainly are still in the thick of it. Dr. Rishi Desai, thanks so much for being with us.