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Why the COVID ‘superhero villain tug-of-war’ will be an eternal battle

Dr. Calvin Sun, The Monsoon Diaries founder & CEO and clinical assistant professor and attending physician in Emergency Medicine at the majority of ERs and hospital systems in NYC, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest coronavirus updates.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Good news on the coronavirus front here in the United States, almost 29% of adults have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccines. But on the flip side, US cases have risen by about 19% in the past two weeks. In New York City, according to "New York Times," the numbers are even more alarming, up 64% in the past two weeks. So there is definitely a race going on between that rise in case count and the need to vaccinate the population.

Dr. Calvin Sun is joining us now. He's The Monsoon Diaries founder and CEO. He's also a clinical assistant professor and attending physician in emergency medicine at the majority of ERs and hospital systems in New York City. In other words, he has been around the city as all of this has been unfolding. Dr. Sun, how do you see that balance right now? I mean, I have to admit, I haven't looked at the numbers in New York City in a little bit, and I'm shocked by the increase that there has been over the past couple of weeks. What's going on?

CALVIN SUN: It's a race against time. I feel like I'm in a movie. It's like a superhero movie where we get one thing that's going for us, and then the villain becomes even more powerful, and we're going back and forth. It literally is neck and neck, a photo finish to the finish line where, who is going to get us? Is it going to be a permanent pandemic, or are we going to beat this down into something seasonal or hopefully smallpox, which I, at this rate, don't think is going to happen. We're going to keep having superhero and villain movies for the rest of eternity if people are still going to go to places like, you know, I'm not going to say which states, but places that don't have mask mandates and then come back.

And we are seeing a huge wave of positive cases. I think if you look at my social media and Instagram, I think I posted twice, because I don't usually do this, but I was posted twice what was overheard in our emergency rooms and urgent care centers and testing sites, I've never seen so many positive cases in months, or there's a lot of positive cases for one day, and that was just yesterday after a 16 hour shift. We are seeing it since Friday and Thursday especially, since last Friday and Thursday. On top of that, even though as many people are getting vaccinated, there's a still subgroup of people who are refusing to get vaccinated or haven't been vaccinated yet, and because it's so close, that, as we say, crisis fatigue. We stopped checking the numbers, people are getting infected again.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Doctor, Anjalee here. I know that we're sort of dealing with actually still sort of politicized environment where yesterday, you saw Dr. Wolynski very emotional about her plea for everyone to sort of keep patient, stay calm and continue following the rules. And President Joe Biden telling states to remain, or rather reinstate, mask mandates. How do you fight that right now, and how do you get the message out when we've pretty much, like you said, already been down this path?

CALVIN SUN: I think that we've seen so far in this whole pandemic is that unfortunately when people are in a place of fear, they act on emotions rather than logic, totally understandable, it's a human conditional response. And therefore, people can only be turned or be convinced otherwise by an emotional argument. And what we saw yesterday was someone that definitely and what we needed more from physicians and public health officials and healthcare workers is the emotional response, that this is something that will affect you emotionally, your families, your loved ones. All this data and logic and why we should do something is somehow not resonating, because people in a place of fear are not going to take in logical arguments.

Same thing the way people vote. People vote based on an emotional response, and all the data and logic in the world is not going to convey them, and I think that's what we saw yesterday when we're so desperate that all the love languages we're used to using, which is logic and data and being very informative, has to be now converted to something of our human element. Because at the end of the day, healthcare workers are humans too, and if there's a way we can reach people emotionally-- because at this point, every little bit counts so that we don't have to be locked in this eternal battle between good and evil, this pandemic. I think that's what we saw, and I think that's what I've been using to reach my patients. Because at the end of the day, they will make decisions based on emotions and not necessarily based on like what the data says.

JULIE HYMAN: Dr. Sun, forgive me, but I'm still trying to understand. So you brought up Texas and the lack of mask mandate, although we've been hearing that most businesses are still requiring masks. New York City still has a mask mandate, New Jersey still has a mask mandate, cases in this state where I am up 20%. Michigan, I was just looking at the numbers, it still has a mask mandate, and the numbers have more than doubled over the past two weeks. So like it's not-- there's something else going on here. And I don't know if it's just that people are letting down their guard, maybe they're still masked up, maybe it's the variants. I'm just trying to understand why the numbers are going up so much.

CALVIN SUN: So there are three things going on there. One is the variants. People are getting reinfected again. You know how many times I've heard, not again, from people who have been infected before I'm telling them they're positive again with symptoms and the lack of smell. Number two is half hearted response. Mask mandates can only do so much, but not all businesses are enforcing it and only half of them are or 3/4, which is a partial.

That's like only vaccinating 80% of the population. That 20% is going to get reinfected, create a new variant, recombinating, and then we have to start all over again. Not all of us are safe until everybody is safe. And finally, three, is travel. Most of the people that I have been telling they were positive in the last since last Friday and Thursday is, oh yeah, I was on a plane. Where'd you come from? And it's usually one of four or five handle of states.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Doctor, I wonder about that point of travel and just general sort of lack of following the rules as strictly. You know, we talk about this, we have been talking about it for the past year about what the easy steps are to avoid infection and avoid reinfection. And it seems like in some areas, part of the problem has been that people don't necessarily know someone who has been affected by the virus or they've recovered pretty quickly. So there is also that sentiment that the virus is not as serious and there are far more low risk individuals in the country than high risk, and so it's OK if we just get infected.

CALVIN SUN: That's a decision that they have to live with. I always tell them, you can do whatever you want. No one's forcing you to stay in home, no one's forcing the quarantine. That is based on your ethical guidelines of what you feel is right or wrong. But when something bad happens, that's on you. When you infect other people. You have blind spots. There's no way you would know particularly who you're infecting. You cough or sneeze in the air and you leave that place. The virus can live in the air for minutes to hours. People can just walk through it through a revolving door and inhale everything that you sneezed or vise versa.

People don't have that ability to see beyond themselves, especially when they're afraid during a pandemic, because they're so hyper focus on self-preservation. And I get that feeling, but unfortunately we're in a place where we have to look out for one another and help one another, because that's the only way we can beat this is by working together. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And we're not really working together as much as I want people to.

It's so unconscionable to me that people would do decisions without thinking about their fellow common man and women and other people out there, because they're so focused on trying to, you know, get back to whatever they feel they're entitled to. So I think that in order for us to fully really contain this thing is to be more aware of what other people are going through and how it can affect other people who can reinfect themselves, mutate, and then reinfect them with something even more dangerous. If people could think that far ahead or we can impeach that in people emotionally even, I think that will make a huge difference.

It's like sexually transmitted diseases as we said back then. The safest thing is abstinence, not going out at all. But that's not practical for most people, so then we encourage protection, protect wisely. Don't wear your mask underneath your nose. That's not wearing it correctly, and of course, you're going to have consequences when you don't do things correctly, half heartedly, if you will.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Speaking of that, I know that there's been a lot of discussion about yesterday's vaccination report from the CDC confirming the efficacy of both Moderna and Pfizer's vaccines, but also the idea that the first shot is close to just as effective as some of the other vaccines in two doses. Do you have any concerns about this report or just about the idea of just looking at one dose? What are your thoughts on that?

CALVIN SUN: So I always tell people that something's better than nothing. But if you are going to take an unnecessary risk like only to settle for one dose instead of what the data is showing for two doses to be effective, if anything bad happens to you by just having one dose in you instead of two and as scheduled, you're all alone. There is no data out there yet to support you, especially during these times, in case anything bad happens to you catch COVID on one dose. Maybe there is some trending data, maybe there's some theoretical data, but it's not peer reviewed with good power, double blind and placebo control the same way that having both doses are.

So you will be by yourself with more doctors and healthcare workers being like, I really don't know what to do with this, because that's not what the data is supported. So if you can, get two doses. But unfortunately, we live in practical times, so if the supply isn't there, I totally understand that getting one dose is better than nothing, which we look to the United Kingdom and their data. But right now, it still hasn't been fully, you know, proven yet in terms of the same way that Pfzier and Moderna's has with two doses where it's very encouraging. But at this moment, would you really want to take that unnecessary risk and be by yourself if you don't have to be?