'We need to continue masking in schools,' doctor urges

Dr. Bhavna Lall, clinical assistant professor at The University of Houston College of Medicine, joins Yahoo Finance Live to talk about the need for mask requirements in schools and booster shots.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Some encouraging news today on the COVID front. The omicron wave is starting to recede in parts of the US that got hit with the variant early on, including Boston, New York, and Washington, DC. And in the UK, where omicron has peaked nationally, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lifted mask mandates in public places.

Here to weigh in is Dr. Bhavna Lall, clinical assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Medicine. Doctor, thanks for being with us. I'm sure you also saw that the World Health Organization said that globally, COVID cases slowed last week compared to the prior week. Are we near the end of this omicron wave? And would also just like to get your thoughts on what's happening in the UK. Is now the time to be lifting that mask mandate?

BHAVNA LALL: So thanks so much for having me, and great questions. This is what we are all watching really carefully. First of all, I don't think this is the right time to be lifting any mask mandates. When you see a fall, this is when you have to be really careful and see how slow or fast the fall is going. This is not the time to be taking off the brakes on any mitigation measures. And yes, there's many models show or predict that we could be seeing a decline in omicron cases towards the end of the month, early February.

But again, the US is a large country. And just because we're seeing cases peak on the East Coast does not mean that we're going to be seeing that at the same level throughout the country. So for example, in Texas, where I am, we have a growth of 430% in cases and many other states as well. And given that we have-- that we're going to be seeing an increase in cases in other parts of the country, we're also going to be seeing the deaths also rising as well as the cases or the peak comes down.

And whether the peak comes down fast or slow, it's all a bit dependent also on different populations in the country. And as you know, there are places in the country that have different vaccinated individuals, different populations that are vaccinated and unvaccinated, and also great disparities in chronic diseases throughout the country, risk factors, et cetera.

So hopefully the end is in sight. At this point, it's hopeful. But we are-- there's a lot of speculation. And we have to continue mitigation measures, such as continuing vaccinations and boosters, masking, quality masking, and with N95s, KN95s, KN94s, and also improving ventilation and making sure that we have social distancing measures in place as well, and workplace safety.

KARINA MITCHELL: Dr. Lall, I wanted to ask you, the WHO just came out yesterday with a statement saying there is no clear evidence that healthy children and adolescents need to get a booster shot. Of course, the FDA has approved that shot for 12 to 15-year-olds, the Pfizer, to get a third shot. I was wondering what your reaction is. And then tied to that, the UK in Boris Johnson's announcement, he also said that effective immediately, starting tomorrow I believe, schoolchildren will no longer have to wear masks. Is that something that you support? Or where do you stand on that?

BHAVNA LALL: No, I don't support that. I think that we need to continue masking in schools. We need to have mask mandates in the US as well. And I think that in the UK as well, they need to continue masking for the safety of their kids and also for the safety of their teachers as well. And as far as vaccinations, we know that the vaccines have been used in the population in over 12 and over age five in America. And that is also helping prevent serious hospitalizations, severe disease and hospitalizations.

So we want to continue to encourage vaccinations for all that are eligible at this point, which we know that these vaccines do help prevent severe disease. And we also know this helps in preventing large populations to get further infected. So if they and their families, if the children are vaccinated, they'll less likely be able to spread the disease from school to their families when they come home as well.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, the FDA authorizing Pfizer's anti-COVID pill at this time when we're having omicron surge. Talk to us a little bit about who this pill is right for, how should we be using it, and some folks, especially those who don't want to get the actual vaccine, may look at this pill as a substitute for the COVID vaccine. Should they be looking at it that way?

BHAVNA LALL: No, so in no way should these oral therapies be any substitution for vaccination. Vaccination we know prevents severe disease and hospitalisations and deaths. And if people who are vaccinated do develop disease and are at high risk, they have the option to talk to their doctors about the oral Pfizer pill, the PAXLOVID, which is given within five days of symptoms. And it's really important for people to understand to actually contact their doctor if they do feel that they are high risk and would qualify to start this pill.

But again, it's also to be noted that this pill is in short supply right now. And the only way that you really can ensure that you're going to have some prevention right now is to get vaccinated and get boosted. And just to keep in mind also, the immunocompromised of the elderly and children under 5 are also unvaccinated populations as well. We have to make sure that we vaccinate people for their sake as well. Immunocompromised are still at risk for getting severe disease. Even with three vaccines, people are getting hospitalized. So it's so important that for their sake that we continue mitigation measures and also continue to encourage everyone to take the vaccine and get boosted as well.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Dr. Bhavna Lall, thanks for your time today.

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