Dr. William Schaffner, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University and the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, joined Thursday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with host Rebecca Mansour and special guest host John Binder to discuss ongoing developments regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
Mansour asked, “How deadly is this virus? We’re hearing some reports that there might be multiple strains. Is it true that maybe there’s a different strain in the United States, and could our strain be less deadly than the other strains?”
Schaffner replied, “It’s clearly a very serious virus, because we know it’s killed so many people around the world. So that’s not in question. It’s more serious than influenza, and so it’s more likely to kill older people than does influenza. It’s basically one strain that’s done all of this damage. Think about it for a moment. There was one transference from some animal — probably in a live market in Wuhan, China — where this virus jumped from the animal to a human being, and all the other human infections across the globe have come from that one event. It’s amazing , but it’s also a testimony as to how contagious it is.”
Schaffner added, “There are recent reports that the virus might have undergone a mutation that could make it more contagious, [but] not more severe. That’s open to debate, still, but basically it’s still the the same strain of virus, which is a good thing because we’re all making vaccines, and we need the virus to be stable for the vaccines to work against it.”
Mansour asked about increases in coronavirus case counts. “A lot of people say, ‘Wait a minute, these case counts are just going up because they’re doing more testing, and it’s no big deal.’ The other thing I hear often is, ‘Well, the hospitalization rate hasn’t ticked up, so it’s fine.’ Is this true that the reason we have all these new cases is just because we’re testing more?”
Schaffner responded, “We’re testing more, and obviously the more you test the more you’ll find, however. it’s also true that consequent to opening up, the increase in positivity rate of our testing has also taken a jump up, and that’s a consequence of more widespreading transmission. In other words, people who opened up [in a] carefree way rather than in a careful way could indeed spread this virus to people who are older. They’re going to get sick, and in some places the hospitalization rate clearly has jumped up.”
The increase in coronavirus infections is straining some hospitals’ capacities to deal with other healthcare matters, said Schaffner.
Schaffner continued, “Houston for an example, right at the moment, is really struggling with people in the hospital. They’re having to stop elective surgery and move COVID patients onto the surgical wards. … Many institutions around the country are already stopping elective surgeries and other procedures so they can take care of COVID patients on those floors, so the COVID patients are displacing people who would normally be in those beds who can put off their medical care until we get through this epidemic.”
Best practices for reducing the spread of the coronavirus were not maintained as authorities relaxed restrictions, Schaffer held.
“We did a good job [for] not long enough, and then we didn’t educate the population,” Shaffner stated. “We didn’t educate ourselves that once you open up, you’re still going to have to do certain things: wear masks, social distancing, avoid large groups. We didn’t educate the populace to do that, so a substantial number of people didn’t do those things, and that fueled a resurgence of transmission of COVID, and that’s kicked off new spreading around the country,”
“COVID originally was focused mainly on cities,” added Schaffer. “These cities are closely packed with people, easy transmission, we developed hot spots, then we shut things down — good — now [that] we’re opening things up, the spread now has gone to small towns and into rural areas, too. Geographically, it’s now really widespread in this country. We’re still chasing this virus. We’re not ahead of it.”
Mansour asked if recent increases in coronavirus infection in the U.S. following differ from increases in other countries.
Schaffner responded, “The other countries have had little bursts of transmission here and there after they’ve opened up that they’ve managed to jump on and curtail. What’s happened with us is that it’s much more geographically widespread, and there’s no evidence that we’ve curtailed it. Every day we’re getting more cases and more cases, and so we haven’t made the same effort that the other countries have in sustaining things, so that the proverbial curve can be flattened.”
Schaffner went on, “We have a much more chaotic response than other countries which do the same thing across the whole country. Everybody gets with the program. Here, we’ve had no national leadership. It’s been contradictory and chaotic. We have 50 governors doing different things. On this Independence Day, we are well to remember, ‘E pluribus unum,’ out of diversity, out of many, one.”
“We need a national program,” maintained Schaffner. “What they do in Maine, they ought to be doing in Missouri, and doing in Florida, and doing in Texas, and doing it Oregon. All need to do the same thing, and we need to do it seriously, and I don’t see evidence of that.”
“I think nobody should leave the front door of their house — nowhere the United States — without wearing a mask. You have just got to wear a mask, and guess what? We’re gonna have to do that for the next several months.”
Mansour inquired about the utility of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“What is the science behind wearing a face mask?” asked Mansour. “Is there credible science? How can we know that this is effective?”
Schaffer held, “It’s easier to wear a mask than a ventilator, [and] masks work in a bi-directional fashion. If I wear the mask and I have an infection, I protect you. If I’m wearing the mask and you have the infection, I’m protected by the mask. So the mask works in both ways. Now why do healthy people have to wear masks? That’s a something that people have a hard time getting their brains around, and that’s because we have recognized that so many people who are infected get no symptoms or very few symptoms, but they are spreaders, and in order to avoid the spread you have to wear a mask.”
Schaffner added, “Why did we suggest wearing masks initially? Remember, this was a new infection, and we were learning things as we were going on. This is an infection, that although new, had two cousins that we knew about: SARS back in 2009, and another coronavirus infection called MERS. They spread, as it turned out, in a very different way. … COVID is much more contagious than those other two viruses, and it took us a while to actually learn [that] that you could have no symptoms but still spread the virus.”
“It wasn’t the scientists that politicized this,” Schaffner stated. “It was the confusing messages from Washington. I don’t make political statements, but the messaging about this outbreak and what we should do about it has been chaotic.”
“Not all face coverings are the same,” Schaffner explained. “A shawl wrapped around your nose and mouth is not terribly effective. A bandanna offers some protection, but the fitted face masks that you can purchase — whether they’re cloth, or even the paper surgical masks — are effective. Everybody knows that the simple paper surgical masks are effective. Deep down, they know that, because they see surgeons wear them. Why do the surgeons wear them? Because it helps prevent wound infections during surgery. The bugs in the surgeon’s mouth don’t get into the wound. That’s why they wear those surgical masks. Obviously they work. We’ve got 200 years of medicine to prove it.”
Mansour asked about herd immunity to the coronavirus.
“Herd immunity for a highly contagious respiratory virus means that somewhere above 60 percent — maybe 80 percent — of the population has to have become infected,” Schaffner estimated. “The early studies that are being done now to assess what proportion of people have already been infected [indicate that] in New York, a real hotspot, the number is about 20 percent. That means 80 percent of the population remains susceptible. There are plenty of people in and around New York who remain susceptible, and the coronavirus can infect this season. In other parts of the country, it’s down around four or five percent.”
Schaffner added, “Waiting for natural immunity to build up will take a long time, and by that time, it will have left a huge trail of coffins behind it.”
Schaffer advised the implementation of a “a new [and] modified normal” in describing best practices to minimize coronavirus transmission.
“Each of the interventions we have now adds some degree of protection, but you have to do several in a row, each of which are imperfect, but if you do several in a row, you layer them up, and you increase all protection,” Schaffner said. “The first thing is wearing masks. The second thing is six-foot distancing. The third thing is avoid group activities.”
Schaffner added, “If we’re carefree, the COVID virus will be with us, so we have to do this carefully, and we have to maintain all those elements.”
“Measures such as body temperature assessments prior to entering buildings or outdoor events and frequent sanitizing of surfaces are effective in reducing coronavirus transmission,” Schaffner stated. “[They] will help us flatten the curve,” he added .”What we want to do is minimize the illness and the deaths until we hope we get a vaccine that is effective, and then we can deliver the vaccine, and that indeed will raise the immunity level in a population so that it will really curtail COVID. Then we’ll have herd immunity, but we’ve got to hang in until we get to that vaccine.”
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