Dr. Uché Blackstock, Advancing Health Equity CEO and Yahoo News Medical Contributor, joins The Final Round to discuss the CDC’s change in guidance on COVID-19 transmission and the latest news on vaccine progress.
MYLES UDLAND: All right, welcome back to “The Final Round” here on Yahoo Finance. Myles Udland with you in New York. Well, over the weekend, an interesting, kind of bizarre situation broke out– the CDC appearing to update its guidance on the website about how COVID-19 spreads then pulling back that tweak. But ultimately, it seems that the CDC is trying to or moving towards confirming what would seem clear at this point, which is that COVID-19 does, indeed, spread through the air, through aerosols. How far, how kind of contagious it is, all of that, something the medical community is still learning, of course.
But for more on everything we do and don’t know right now about COVID-19 and where the pandemic goes from here in the US, we’re going by Dr. Uche Blackstock. She is the CEO of Advancing Health Equity, and a Yahoo News medical contributor. So Dr. Blackstock, let’s start with that kind of news from the CDC– or not news from the CDC– over the weekend. What did you make of that updated guidance? And I suppose, at this point, is the CDC maybe behind where most of the medical community is in terms of believing with confidence how COVID does and does not spread and how concerned we need to be about, you know, aerosols and contained spaces?
UCHE BLACKSTOCK: So wait, we actually have an update from this weekend within the last few hours. The CDC removed the language on aerosols again. So right now, that language that was put in over the weekend has been removed. And again, we’re seeing, you know, potential political interference in one of our most trusted public health agencies, which is, you know, incredibly concerning. And I would say, I can understand the public being confused. Even for myself, as a physician providing care to patients with COVID-19, I’m also pretty confused as well.
MYLES UDLAND: Yeah, and I’m curious about that dynamic because we haven’t talked to too many doctors who are actively seeing patients through this period. I mean, what has sort of the concern level or knowledge level among your patients been? How has that ebbed and flowed over time? And I guess what is the sort of state of someone who comes into the office and is concerned or isn’t worried? Because I think here in the media, we sort of lose focus maybe on what the public does and doesn’t think about COVID. So what have you kind of seen there?
UCHE BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, so I routinely get tons of questions. I work in urgent care in New York City, and so I saw patients in– you know, back in March and in the spring, many COVID-19 patients. But even now, as we’ve had fewer cases, there’s still so many questions. You know, is it safe to send my kids to school? What kind of tests do I need? You know, how is it spread? You know, which masks should I wear?
And so you know, I think that this– you know, the flip-flopping that we’re seeing, you know, at the CDC, whether intentional or unintentional, is definitely confusing a lot of the lay public, in terms of, you know, what we know and what we don’t know about this virus. I mean, we’ll say that, you know, we’re all learning together, right? You know, we– are our recommendations are updated on a regular basis. But at the same time, what we’re seeing now is pretty unprecedented.
SEANA SMITH: Dr. Blackstock, you mentioned one of the questions that you get from your patients a lot is the questions about sending their kids to school. And obviously, as a mother, I mean, that is something that you do– you almost pour over the decision. You can’t think about it enough because it is such a huge concern right now. And obviously, you want to do everything to keep your child safe.
But is it safe to send children to school? From the guidelines that we’re seeing– I guess let’s take New York City, for example, pushing back their in-student lessons. Is that smart? Should parents feel confident about sending their children to school right now?
UCHE BLACKSTOCK: So I actually can speak firsthand. I have two small children in New York City Public Schools, and one actually started prekindergarten today in person. So I took them there. And I dropped him off, and I picked him up, and was pretty happy. But what I will say is that what matters a lot is the level of community transmission. Here in New York City, our positivity rate is less than 1%. But obviously, we also have to think about other factors, like school resources, ventilation. And so it definitely is a very– is an individual, personal decision depending on your school district, depending on your school building that each parent and family has to make.
MELODY HAHM: And Dr. Blackstock, of course, the World Health Organization has forecasted that widespread vaccinations may not actually be available until mid-2021 at the earliest. So even if we do have some promising news, which, of course, investors are looking closely at, how hopeful are you that the dissemination and the availability and ubiquity of these vaccines will reach average Americans and not just those who can afford it?
UCHE BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, no, these are such great questions, and obviously, I’m very concerned. I know that, you know, we’ve had the whole– the research and development process be somewhat compromised. And then the vaccine distribution process, it’s still being worked through. And so we know that it will take probably up to six to nine months to ensure that everyone receives a vaccine.
I know that there are several organizations out there, including some medical organizations like the National Medical Association, who really want to work closely with the government to ensure that everyone– especially the most vulnerable communities, the ones most disproportionately impacted by the virus– do receive the vaccine in a timely manner once one has been approved.
MYLES UDLAND: And Dr. Blackstock, finally, I just want to follow up on something you mentioned in the school conversation, which is about levels of community spread and sort of how we think about the activity of COVID in our community and how we track that. Because I think that there’s this weird tension, especially here in the city, right? Where everyone’s being very compliant. Everyone’s wearing masks.
And sometimes, I feel like it’s still April outside. And then other times, I sort of feel myself being like, you know, are there certain things we could be doing that are in addition to what has been ruled safe so far? And I guess as you think about it, as a medical professional, does the public need to be ready for there to be some level of community spread, even if it’s very low, even after there’s a vaccine? And that this might be the coronavirus we are living with in some form for a very long time.
UCHE BLACKSTOCK: No, yeah, I think that’s a good point. I think we probably will be living with the virus for a while even after a vaccine. I think we will definitely have to get used to wearing these masks. It’s going to be a long-term situation. And so I think what’s going to happen, though, is that we are going to get more used to living with the virus, so used to wearing masks, used to physically distancing, you know, washing your hands more often than we used to. And you know, I think that we’re going to have to put those strategies in place probably for the next one to two years at least.