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As WH warns of new USA covid strain, if we don’t change course ‘it will be disastrous’: Doctor

Dr. Arghavan Salles, COVID-19 disaster relief physician, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest on the spread of Covid-19 and the possibly of a new USA strain.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Arghavan Salles, she's a COVID-19 disaster relief physician. And, doctor, great to have you on the program. I first want to start with what we just heard from Anjalee, what President-Elect Joe Biden's potential plan, or it sounds like it will be his plan, for vaccine distribution is. Do you think that is a smart idea? Does that make sense to you?

ARGHAVAN SALLES: Well, I think there's a lot of debate in the medical community and among virologists and everyone who has reason to know anything about the science here about whether doing this shift to getting as many people as possible a first dose, as opposed to making sure that anybody who gets a first dose also gets a second dose, is going to be effective. There are really strong arguments on both sides of this.

I think one thing we've really seen with all of COVID since it hit the states back in the spring is that changing our policies leads to a lot of mistrust. I think either way of doing it seems reasonable. There are drawbacks and benefit to either doing both doses consistently, or doing the first dose first and then living with the delay that there may be about the second dose.

But I think whatever it is that we decide to do, we really need to be clear about it and be consistent with the messaging on it. Otherwise, we end up, or I'm afraid we end up, where we are with masks, where, initially, for good reason, people were not necessarily mandating masks. And then, when we found out how important they were, it's been, as you know, I'm sure, very difficult to get everybody to adopt that very simple intervention. So I would hate to see the same type of issue out with these--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Forgive me for asking you a hypothetical, and nobody's on trial here. But if Joe Biden, the President-Elect, came to you and said, OK, what do I do? How would you advise him on this vaccine issue, but also on, for instance, getting the curve back down?

ARGHAVAN SALLES: Yeah, I think, actually, that second question is even more important than the first question because what some people may not fully appreciate is that the very same people who are trying to manage the logistics of the surge at every hospital and in every county are also the same people who are having to deal with the vaccine rollout.

And so, you can imagine, if you are a public health official and you are both trying to figure out how to find enough ICU beds and ventilators and dialysis machines, but you're also trying to manage the most massive vaccination program we've had in our lifetimes, that it would be very hard to do both well. And so, I think that the most important thing for getting the vaccine rollout done efficiently is to decrease the number of people who are needing hospitals. And we need to do that by decreasing transmission.

How do we decrease transmission? People need to stay home when and if they can. People need to mask when they're outdoors, keep their distance, and not do things that, as much as we love to do, are not safe right now. Those are things like gathering with our family members or gathering with people we don't know very well or with any number of people--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Forgive me for interrupting you. Should we have more forceful lockdowns, or is that cat already out of the bag?

ARGHAVAN SALLES: Yeah, I think that's a great question. The challenge is, we are well beyond the point of formal lockdown helping us. But we are still in the place where acting with safety and precautions will still help us. So we don't need to all be running to the grocery store every day, right? We can all manage to make a grocery list and go once a week and wear a mask when we're there and stay away from other people and sanitize our hands frequently. All of these very basic public health things that we discovered relatively early on in the pandemic, many people have abandoned. And we really just need to go back to basics.

SEANA SMITH: And, doctor, if we don't make these changes, we don't go back to the basics, and even now that we have this new highly contagious strain now that has been found in the US, what kind of numbers could we potentially be looking at?

ARGHAVAN SALLES: I think everything is going through the roof, right? Yesterday, we had the highest number of deaths we've had in this country in a day due to COVID. We had over 4,000 deaths. We had 35% more deaths a day yesterday than we did on 9/11. And it was a day like any other in America, except that it was, of course, a day after.

But putting that aside, we are going to see those numbers keep continuing. We're going to see millions more people getting sick. We're going to see-- you know, we're at over 100,000 people hospitalized. I would not be surprised if we get well beyond that with the way things are going. And where are those people going to go? Where are the beds and where are the staff who are going to take care of those patients? I mean, I think it's going to be really truly disastrous if we do not change this course.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Very quickly, without any change on our current path, when would it naturally begin to dissipate?

ARGHAVAN SALLES: Oh, I don't know that any of us knows the answer to that. And I don't think it's going to be without significant loss of life. So I don't recommend that as a public health strategy.