Dr. Rishi Desai, Chief Medical Officer at Osmosis & Former Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Officer joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss how according to EvercoreISI, the 7-day moving average for COVID-19 hospitalizations in U.S. has turned positive for first time since July.
KRISTIN MYERS: A new report in the New York Times on the CDC being pressured by the White House to downplay the risk of sending children back to school. So to chat this and much more about the pandemic, we are joined now by Dr. Rishi Desai. He's a former epidemic intelligence officer at the CDC, and is the chief medical officer at Osmosis. So Dr. Desai, on this news that the White House was pressuring the CDC, given your time there and your experience working at the center, does the CDC often face political pressure from the president over scientific data, or is this an outlier?
RISHI DESAI: Not usually. So usually, the CDC, over its very storied career, many decades, has done an amazing job of being very bipartisan, sort of above the fray, and basically focused on science, right? Today, science itself is kind of a political issue. Whether you believe in masks, whether you believe in climate change, you name the topic, and science has become politicized. And so this is-- unfortunately, I wouldn't say it's kind of out of the norm. This has been the norm for the last few years, since basically 2016.
KRISTIN MYERS: So on that point of the politicization of just scientific data in general, but also as we have seen throughout this pandemic, what do you think the ultimate impact of that is when it comes to fighting this virus and fighting this pandemic as a country?
RISHI DESAI: Yeah, it's a really dangerous situation we're in because, acutely, we're worried about, you know, the flu season coming up, another wave, like you talked about, the economy. These are acute issues. These are going to take place over the next few months. There's also the long-term effects, right? Like, when you stop believing and trusting your premier health agency, the CDC, then what do you have left? What do you go with at that point?
And so the real worry I have is that both, you know, acutely we've got problems, dramatic ones, but then long-term, how do we, as a country, figure out how to chart a path forward for all these other big issues that are coming our way? Like I mentioned, climate change is the next big one that we need to be thinking about, and we need the CDC to be there to help us chart that path.
KRISTIN MYERS: On that point of downplaying the risk of sending children to school, we did see in Florida, I do want to mention for everyone that, while Florida reopened schools en masse, we did not see a large surge of the virus there. But more broadly, Dr. Desai, downplaying that risk of sending children to school, do you think that is going to cost Americans perhaps their lives, or at the very least their health?
RISHI DESAI: Yeah, I mean, if you clearly create a counterfactual reality, an alternate reality, where we do a different thing-- let's say in one reality, we open up schools across the board, in the other reality, we don't-- clearly, there are going to be differences in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. There's no question about that. And as a country, we need to figure out where we make acceptable tradeoffs to chart these very troubled waters.
And so there's no question that hospitalizations and deaths are on the line. What we need to do is make smart choices. And I think that one of the big things that we need to do is empower everyone to trust the data. We need to look at it together and make fair, evenhanded choices. And I think the CDC historically has done that really well. And I think right now, with the White House putting pressure on them, it really undermines anybody's trust in the CDC, as well as in the White House. And so I think when that happens, it corrupts both of those institutions.
KRISTIN MYERS: So I'm going to ask you about that trust in the White House in just a moment. I do want to quickly ask you, however, about this uptick that we have been seeing, the case counts, hospitalizations. We have seen positive downward trends, of course, till now. Hospitalizations has turned positive for the first time since July. I mentioned earlier about that positivity rate here in New York City tripling. Do you see a second wave? Are we on the edge of a second wave, especially with winter upcoming, which, of course, is not good for anyone trying to fight a virus?
RISHI DESAI: If we continue on our current path and don't do anything different, then we will absolutely see a second wave. I mean, all of this is really contingent on what we do. We're empowered here to make changes. And so if we start kind of masking up, separating ourselves out, social distancing, all of that kind of stuff that we know works, if we do that, then of course, that's going to be a different story. But if we behave like we're behaving right now, in New York and all around the country, then we'll definitely see a second wave, and it's going to be worse because of the flu.
It's now flu season. And so we've been very fortunate over the past six, seven months to not have to deal with that in a big, big way. But now, it's going to rear its head, and we're going to have a hard time distinguishing who is sick with the flu versus who is sick with COVID-19. And keep in mind, the two viruses can also play together. You can get the flu, and that can also make you susceptible to COVID-19. So all these things are going to kind of make it even messier than what we've seen before.
KRISTIN MYERS: So back to that trust issue, there was a new Axios-Ipsos poll that found that less than 20% of Americans want to take a first-generation vaccine when it becomes available, even if the president told them that it was safe. Is that a worrying number that folks are not going to want to take the vaccine when it's available, or are some of those fears that people have well-founded?
RISHI DESAI: How can you blame them? I mean, when you say if the president tells you to do something, would you do it, we have to remember he also told us things like, you know, azithromycin might be, you know, a wonder drug, which ended up not being the case, that we might consider using bleach or household cleaners. You know, things like this coming from his mouth make him less reliable on scientific topics.
So the first thing we have to do is regain credibility by getting Dr. Fauci to speak on this issue, make sure that people align themselves with him. I think a lot of people do trust him as a science person and respect his background, the way he kind of frames things. And then secondly, we need to do it fast. We need to get people to take the vaccine if-- and this is a huge if-- if it's safe and if it's effective. And so we need to prove that with data and say, look, it's safe, it's effective, many health care leaders think it's a vaccine worth taking, now would you go and take it. And I think that basically spells out what leadership is supposed to look like.