California has lowest COVID-19 case rate in the U.S.: RPT

Dr. James Simmons, Hospitalist Nurse Practitioner in Los Angeles, CA, joins Yahoo Finance’s Sibile Marcellus and Alexis Christoforous to discuss the latest on the coronavirus.

Video Transcript


SIBILE MARCELLUS: As the vaccine rollout continues, America makes progress on the pandemic. And in fact, California, a state where the government actually had to implement the shutdowns, first to do it in the country, now that state has the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases. I want to bring in Dr. James Simmons, Hospitalist Nurse Practitioner in Los Angeles, California. And doctor, tell me, how is California really succeeded in fighting back against this pandemic?

JAMES SIMMONS: First of all, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. This is-- the last time I was on, we were definitely in a different situation. You know, I think it's really interesting, and there's probably three things that are really going on here as to why California has gotten to this fantastic place where we are.

Number one is the vaccine. You know, people here in California have been really excited about the vaccine. The rollout has not faced some of the same challenges that other states have faced, particularly in terms of supply chain and distribution of the vaccine. In fact, 61% of adults in California over the age of 18 have at least one dose of a vaccine now, and we are vaccinating about 1% of people every single day. So, it's definitely the vaccine.

You know, the second thing, and this is a little bit sometimes uncomfortable to talk about. One of the things that we might have in California, more than other places, is a natural immunity because it was so bad here early on. So, natural immunity, of course, comes after infection. We had 3.6, more or less, million cases of individuals confirmed with COVID-19, but the thought is that that number could be four to five times higher of people who actually had COVID-19.

So, we have sort of this natural immunity towards herd immunity because of a high infection rate early on, vaccines, and then number three, we just haven't had the same variants that some of the other states have had. The CAL.20C variant here that really did a number on the population back in December and January, as you can see here with this graphic, that really was the dominant variant here, has continued to be the dominant variant.

We haven't seen the high rates of the B117 or the B.1351 variants that other states are experiencing. So, some can say also that we've had stricter lockdowns and more folks are willing to wear their masks here. I don't want to get too political about that, but either way, this sort of merging has led us to this place, lowest in the country.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And that's certainly something to be proud of, Dr. Simmons. But can you tell us what's happening there on the ground? Are you finding that there is starting to be a slowdown in people wanting to get the vaccine? Is there hesitancy after the whole J&J situation where perhaps the younger set is now saying, I don't know if I want to get that vaccine just yet? Are you seeing that?

JAMES SIMMONS: We are seeing that. We're starting to see vaccine numbers slow down, sort of nationwide, but also particularly here in California. And some of that is because we vaccinated a lot of folks, right? 87% of Californians over the age of 65 who want to-- have gotten vaccinated. That's a tremendously high number.

Now, we're seeing folks who are saying, well, I'm young. I don't necessarily think I need the vaccine. I'm hesitant about it. And in fact, interestingly, some folks are hearing the information about the Johnson & Johnson pause and then translating that to Pfizer and Moderna, and saying, well, OK, if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had potential issues, maybe the Pfizer and Moderna do as well.

Even though there are completely different vaccines, they use completely different technology. So, we're starting to see a slowdown, which is probably about on par with the number of individuals who we thought were going to be hesitant to take vaccines in the first place.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Doctor, at this point, some states are fully reopening, such as New York City, on July 1. When a state like-- when a city, sorry-- when a city like that fully reopens, does social distancing still apply? And if it's the summer, and it's hot outside, we want air conditioning, I mean, are there new rules for inside those restaurants or has that all not been figured out yet?

JAMES SIMMONS: You know, I think this is something even as long as we've been in this pandemic, which feels like forever, right, as long as we've been in this pandemic, we're still learning so much every single day. There was actually a report that was just this morning on one of the major cable networks about how changing an indoor air flow and HVAC systems can have a huge impact on how well this virus spreads, from an aerosolization standpoint.

So, yes, there needs to be new rules and new protocols about how we do things indoors. We can't go back to the normal that was there before. That's just how this is. I think we'll continue to learn.

I think we have to continue to be driven by the data as well. As we can sort of open up, if case rates start to climb, and we see through contact tracing and other means that those case rates are from indoor activities, we got to slow down on the indoor activities and take everything back outside. We're lucky it's summer and we can start to do that now.

But I also think the vaccination rates here as well as herd immunity, I really do think that that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that we've been looking at is getting bigger and bigger. And I think as long as people keep following these protocols, we won't go backwards.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, we hope so. I'm with you on that, doctor. But what's the reopening plan there in California? And I think, you know, the fear is, while it is in many ways a very different situation, the US and what's happening in India right now, the fear is that we open up still too quickly and that we have the virus rage here once again. So, what's the plan like there in your state?

JAMES SIMMONS: So, we've been on a tiered system. A lot of states have been this way, [INAUDIBLE] tiered system. And in fact, here in Los Angeles County where I am now, we are poised to go into the lowest tier, starting even as early as next week, which is the yellow tier, which is essentially almost a full reopening. There's some capacity restrictions on indoor things, like in gyms. You can still only be at, I believe, it's 50% to 75% capacity at that time.

So, I think this slow measured approach is the right way to go because what's really important to remember is that this is a global pandemic. And we are-- and I mean, we could talk about the financial implications of being in a globalization, right? Well, we know that that's how this pandemic touched every single country in the world. And we also are learning from the really, really tough unfortunate circumstances going on in India right now what getting too lax about reopening and reopening too quickly can do.

So, we need to be careful. This does need to be slow and measured. But I think that the Biden administration, in particular, around this, have done a fantastic job of sort of targeting July 4 as being that date where a lot of the country can reopen, and we can get back to whatever life 2.0 is actually going to look like.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Agreed, doctor. Let's keep this slow and measured. Dr. James Simmons, thanks so much.