Omicron: We could see 'a substantial surge' in NY this winter, NewYork Presbyterian Hospital CEO says

Dr. Steven Corwin, NewYork Presbyterian Hospital CEO, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the Omicron variant and the outlook for coronavirus cases and hospitalizations throughout the winter.

Video Transcript

- Welcome back to Yahoo Finance. Well, it's a grim ending. Americans are poised for a dire end to the year as COVID cases spike around the world and here in the US. New York reported its highest number of infections of the entire pandemic over the weekend. And boosted individuals are now being infected, Senator Elizabeth Warren and tennis star Rafael Nadal among the latest case counts. So what can we expect over the next few weeks, and how prepared are we for what comes next? New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in as New York City is a hotspot. Take a listen.

BILL DE BLASIO: It's about what's the right thing to do and what's the right strategy to both save lives and also protect livelihoods. We should avoid lockdowns. We should avoid shutdowns. We should avoid restrictions. I've said this now for weeks and weeks. We can avoid all those things by getting more people vaccinated.

- And here to discuss that and more is Dr. Steven Corwin, New York Presbyterian Hospital CEO. Doctor, thank you so much for your time. Just your reaction to the spike in cases that we're seeing in New York, a pandemic-era high.

STEVE CORWIN: Well, we're clearly seeing much more in the way of cases. We're below where we were from a hospital standpoint where we were last year, which is encouraging. So clearly, very infectious. But whether hospitalization rates will be the same as they were last winter before we had the wide spread rollout of vaccines is still unclear. So I'm still hopeful that we will clearly see a substantial surge, but hopeful that it will be less severe than the Delta surge in last January and February, at least in New York.

- And doctor, can you share some of those hospitalizations statistics? And do you have the deep bench, I guess, as you would say, to be able to staff increase hospital beds should the need arise? And then I guess as a second part to that question, people who have ordinary care issues, are they still able to come in and receive care for them because a year ago that wasn't necessarily the case.

STEVE CORWIN: Yes. I'm very confident that our staffing levels are going to be adequate. I'm also very confident we can continue to give routine care and urgent care as well as COVID care. So I'm firmly of the mindset that we'll be able to handle it within our system. If we need to, we can always create more ICU capacity. We have ample quantities of protective equipment.

I think the thing that we are now looking at is to make sure that we have enough rapid test availability for patients and for our staff because you know that that's been in somewhat in short supply. No question that people need to be boosted. There's no question also that around the world we're seeing the following problems with the vaccinations. The Sinovac Chinese vaccine is not effective against omicron. The Sputnik Russian vaccine is not effective. AstraZeneca is not effective. And J&J appears to be not effective.

So we're really left with Pfizer and Moderna being effective. And that's critical for us and critical for people to get boosted. About 40% to 50% of the patients we're seeing now in the hospital have been double vaccinated. We've only seen an occasional triple vaccinated patient. But we're still early in this last surge.

- And then I wonder, doctor, is the US behind the curve in sort of instituting protocols to help mitigate this, as they are doing in Europe? Do you think we should be doing more here? or are we just handling it at the right pace?

STEVE CORWIN: Well, we've always had this push-pull, do lockdowns work? Do they not work? Is it more harmful than not? There's no question in my mind that the lockdowns were necessary pre-vaccination. And there's also no question that given the problems that businesses and others have with lockdowns that we should try to avoid that at all costs. Having said that, we ought to be prudent.

So I think that having a large gathering in Times Square for New Year's Eve in New York is probably not a wise idea. And people are recognizing that. In terms of individuals, I think you have to recognize, where is your risk profile? If you have somebody very elderly in the household, that's a risk. And if you have a young unvaccinated child, that's a risk. And accordingly your level of social interaction has to be modulated in terms of what that risk quotient is. It's good to have kids back in school. It's great that children can be vaccinated. I'd love to see us being able to vaccinate the very young children because I think that would give us a greater measure of security.

But let's face the facts. We're going to be dealing with this variant for a number of months. And after that, we will probably be dealing with something that's endemic as opposed to epidemic. And like with the flu vaccine, we're probably going to need yearly vaccinations. And we will have a lot of breakthrough infections.

- And, doctor, you mentioned children going back to school. A lot of that requires testing. We talk with our producers and other show participants every morning. And there's frustration out there because in New York City a lot of us are still waiting for test results from last week. And if you drive or walk around, you can see the CityMD lines, which were already long before omicron. I was seeing them at 10 or 20 levels in November. So I'm just wondering, how does New York City, a city like this, or any city, really, amp up the testing procedures to allow people to live their lives?

STEVE CORWIN: We have to get more rapid tests available. My son had a coworker test positive. He's vaccinated and boosted. It took him the better part of two days to figure out how to get a rapid test. So you're 100% right. The city's got to make much more in the way of testing sites available. The city's got to purchase the rapid tests. We've got to get the pharmacies to deploy the rapid tests, the CVS, the Walgreens. And that that's true around the country. I think we're behind in terms of rapid testing.

Now, the rapid testing is not absolutely failsafe. The PCR tests are the best test. But we're reserving those for people who are symptomatic, not for just testing whether you were a close contact with somebody. And there's a false positive and false negative rate with those. But we've got to amplify that much more to give people some additional security. No question about it. And I empathize with you in terms of the CityMD lines. I've seen that myself around the city.

Our hospital will be purchasing 50,000 rapid test kits to give to our employees. I think other employers should do the same. We've got to get our testing ramped up in New York City, and I'm sure in any area with the surge. And I don't mean to be the Grinch that Stole Christmas, but if you don't do the rapid testing, you're going to be much more reluctant to socialize. And we do want to get together with relatives if we can, if the risk is low.

- All right, doctor. Thank you so much. We'll have to leave it there. People waiting a long time for those PCR tests as well.

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