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Virus outlook amid vaccine rollout, new variants

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down the virus outlook as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout hits bumps.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: We want to continue the conversation and bring in Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne. She's an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. And Dr. Clayborne, just going off of what Anjalee was just telling us, these three variants have now been identified inside the US.

And we talk about the fact that they're so concerning because of the transmissibility of these three variants. I guess, how does this affect what the next couple of months could look like here in the US?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: Well, I think that the take away should be that we need to continue to be vigilant. I know a lot of people have pandemic fatigue and they're tired of social distancing, they're tired of staying home. And it's very difficult for a lot of families to continue to buckle down and be safe and make sure you're masking up.

But it is of the utmost importance because these variants are coming to the United States and probably have been here and will start circulating with more frequency. And because they could be more contagious, it is all the more reason that we need to buckle down and be safe and certainly look to our health care officials when it might be your time to get vaccinated and do that as soon as possible.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I wish there was some easy way to let us know, because state to state, it seems to be a confusing mess of when you're supposed to get the vaccine. But I am curious, we're seeing news that every American who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by Memorial Day. Is that realistic, do you think?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: I certainly think that we can get there if we put the full force of the government and the support that the states need to be able to administer these vaccines at a local level. And of course, paying attention to getting these vaccines into areas that are particularly hard hit by COVID-19 and largely underserved. And that's going to be an important aspect of distribution.

It's realistic. I certainly think that a lot of things are going to have to go right for that to happen. So in the meantime, while you're waiting, there are a lot of things that you need to continue to do to protect yourself. One thing I always bring up, in addition to social distancing and mask wearing is having an advanced care plan. I'm an ER doctor and every day that I'm going to work, I still am seeing very critically ill people come in. And they sometimes can't speak for themselves.

If you have not thought about what your advanced care plan would be and documented that and shared it with your family, it makes it extremely difficult for me as a physician to get the information I need and talk to your loved ones about what may or may not need to happen. So that is a step that you can take right now. And I encourage people to go to where they can download forms and fill them out or use an electronic platform, like

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Clayborne, you mentioned the patients that you're seeing. I'm curious, just give us a better picture of the current situation in Maryland right now and what you're facing on a day-to-day basis. Sure, so all of the hospitals in Maryland are a little crunched. In addition, it is flu season wintertime. We're still seeing a fair number of our regular patient load of heart attacks and strokes and all that.

And so the additional COVID patients who come in, sometimes acutely ill with some of those same problems, means that our hospital's resources are stretched thin. So I do see an increased number of acutely ill people. I'm boarding ICU patients much more often than I typically would.

And it is a scary situation because sometimes, that means that a patient that might need acute interventions could potentially have a delay in care. And so it is a particularly dangerous time to get sick. And that is why it is super important for everyone to be taking the precautions needed to avoid contracting COVID-19.

ADAM SHAPIRO: When we talk about these issues that you just brought up, the hospitals being crowded, on the flip side, Johnson & Johnson, not affiliated with you, but in their earnings report, they pointed out there is kind of a flip side to the lockdown is less medication sold because fewer people have flu and fewer people getting colds. Are you seeing that side of the story as well?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: I think there's probably still a fair number of people who are having low acuity illnesses. I just think that they probably stay at home and tend to those themselves rather than seeking out medical assistance. And I still encourage patients any time that they're sick and they feel like they need help to at least contact a health care provider and see if they need to present to an emergency department.

But there's a general fear that the public has that they don't want to go to the hospital unless it's absolutely necessary. And so some of those illnesses or drugs that you would normally see ramp up in the winter time might be lower because people are staying home and taking care of themselves.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Clayborne, when you talked about the new variants and how it's critical that we stay vigilant here over the next couple of months, we're seeing some states scale back their restrictions. When you're seeing that type of action taking place, is that just simply too soon?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: I think that every state certainly has their own set of concerns. And I know that every state is trying to balance the ability to get children back into school, to get businesses back open, to restart the economy with the health risks. I do think that it is dangerous sometimes if you do not look at the evidence.

And what I think has been encouraging is that I feel like we've had a renewed sense of direction and understanding of what could be tolerated and what is probably more dangerous. And so if the appropriate steps are taken and then we're being vigilant with our testing and making sure that there's not negative consequences of opening back up too soon, that is certainly something that I'm sure everyone is waiting for. But I do think we need to be cautious and slow as we progress with those reopenings.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, we really appreciate you taking the time to join us today.

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: Thank you for having me.