“We’re at the lowest point we’ve been since about Halloween”: Dr. Brian Garibaldi

Dr. Brian Garibaldi, Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit Medical Director joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the latest COVID-19 numbers and vaccine news.

Video Transcript

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- The US is approaching a sobering milestone in this pandemic nearly a year on. Roughly half a million patients killed by the virus so far. Now there is some positive news today though. And that points to the number of patients that have been hospitalized because of the virus. Those numbers now at a three-month low, the lowest since we saw in early November. Let's bring in Dr. Brian Garibaldi, Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit Medical Director. Doctor, it's good to talk to you. And, you know, we have really been able to get your guidance over the last year as we've seen the course of the pandemic shift. A dramatic drop since we've seen in early November. What's been the most noticeable shift for you in your ER?

BRIAN GARIBALDI: Well, so in our intensive care units and our floor units in the hospital, we've definitely seen a decline in cases over the last several months. We're at the lowest point we've been since around Halloween. And what that's meant for us is that we've actually closed some of our COVID-dedicated units. We're down from, you know, eight to nine units at our peak to now down to just two dedicated units for COVID.

And so that's allowed us to rotate staff, you know, across different units to give people a little bit of a breather where possible. And we've also just been able to get back to a little bit more in terms of normal business for our ICUs who are now back to taking care of the patients that they're they're used to taking care of during times when we're not in the middle of the pandemic, which has been great for, I think, morale and and also good for patient care.

- That seems like a pretty significant shift too because, you know, a lot of times, things like that don't happen because you're always kind of fearing this next wave. And we've heard some concerns around what could happen after the Super Bowl and kind of not necessarily seeing cases tick up yet. So in kind of that vein of returning to normal, we heard Dr. Fauci talking about maybe the potential need to wear masks all the way until 2022. What does this return to normal like the timeline look like to you, the pathway forward in how this is expected to linger around for a while at least in the form of booster shots? Or how do you see us getting back to normal?

BRIAN GARIBALDI: Sure so, you know, getting back to normal is a relative statement. I'd say what we've done really well in the hospitals is build flexibility in terms of our, you know, our capabilities to turn different units into COVID capable very, very quickly. So we can flex much better now than we could before in terms of accommodating if there are an influx of new cases or a need for more ICU beds. You know, I think there's still a lot of uncertainty about what happens with some of the variants that we're seeing and whether or not the current vaccines are going to continue to be effective as we move further into the spring and the summer.

I think it's very likely that masks are going to be an important part of what we do for many months now. And I think it's not unreasonable to think that we're going to be wearing masks into 2022. And, you know, I think in general, when we think about the other potential benefits of masks, you know, we've only seen a handful of influenza cases in our hospital. And we see hundreds of influenza cases a year. And some of these these methods that are being put into place to reduce COVID-19 infection are also helping with other infections as well. I think until we have a much broader swath of the population vaccinated, we're masking and social distancing where appropriate are going to be important tools that we're going to continue to use for many months now.

- There are a lot of concerns about the impact the weather has had on the rate of vaccinations. Last week, we were talking about the power outages in Texas, some vaccines that were not stored properly as a result of the outage. When you look at the grand scheme of things, this pace of vaccinating 300 million plus people by this summer, how significant are those delays and how quickly do you anticipate it will take to ramp up back again?

BRIAN GARIBALDI: So, I think they're obviously very significant for the thousands of people who had their appointments that needed to be canceled because of the weather delays. I think we'll catch up. And I think as we move further into the spring, you know, we've already seen that the current administration has secured enough doses for the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine. But they're very likely going to be additional vaccines that will become available, which will also improve and bolster that supply chain. So I think they're certainly frustrating delays. And people are anxious to get their vaccines when they've been scheduled. But I don't think it's going to significantly hamper the current timelines of trying to get the majority of adults who are eligible vaccinated by the summer.

- The next one that we could come see through here is Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. And that one could come as soon as Thursday, at least in terms of the FDA'S initial advisory committee to sign off on it. When we talk about that one in particular, a lot of people in public health are stressing the fact that it's a one-dose vaccine doesn't necessarily need the same cold chain support the Pfizer and Moderna ones do. So talk to me about how big that would be if we do indeed get clearance rather soon here and what it means for the vaccine front.

BRIAN GARIBALDI: Yeah, I think, you know, adding additional vaccines, it'll be helpful here in the United States. But I think it's also a potential game-changer around the world in the ability to get vaccines to areas that may not have the supply chains that we have here in terms of cold storage and also the delivery infrastructure to be able to get vaccines to places in a timely fashion when you have to worry about that ability to keep them cold. So I think it could potentially be a huge impact, not just here in the US, but maybe even more importantly internationally.

- A big part of that return to normal you talked about earlier will be schools reopening. On that front, there seems to be this ongoing debate about whether, in fact, teachers should be required to get vaccinated. The Biden administration says that they don't believe that should be a requirement. Do you agree with that recommendation?

BRIAN GARIBALDI: Well, I think there's lots of-- there's lots of things to consider when you talk about how to reopen schools. And part of it is what's happening in a local community. Part of it's understanding how likely it is that schools are going to be a hotbed of transmission. We have not seen that by and large in the areas that have opened up their schools. And this is happening even before the majority of teachers getting vaccinated. I do think teachers should be, you know, a high priority because they are so critical to our infrastructure and to to our country. So I think we should get them vaccinated as quickly as possible. But I think we've already seen that you can open schools safely in certain circumstances without having everyone who's working in that school vaccinated.

- All right, there we go. And we'll keep watching on this. But at least positive for the time being in terms of cases definitely coming down at a rapid clip. Dr. Brian Garibaldi at Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit Medical Director, thanks again for coming on.