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Doctor defends new CDC COVID-19 guidelines: 'This is how science works'

Dr. Anthony Santella, University of New Haven Professor of Health Administration and Policy and COVID-19 Coordinator, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the CDC's latest guidelines, data on new COVID cases, how best to safely socialize and celebrate New Year's, and at-home testing trends.

Video Transcript

- Let's bring in Dr. Anthony Santella, University of New Haven professor of Health Administration and Policy and COVID-19 coordinator. And doctor, appreciate you being here with us on New Year's Eve. When we look at this, I'm not sure where you want to start, because there's a lot of different elements.

Of course, the CDC has been continuing to change their guidance around isolation. Now you also have them coming out and warning Americans about being on cruise lines, too. It seems like there is a bit of mixed messaging since, you know, we were entering kind of the phase where the data seemed to be indicating that omicron might not be as bad as feared, but what do you make of maybe what the messaging has become now?

ANTHONY SANTELLA: First, thanks for having me. Happy new year. I feel very underdressed compared to you all. But you know, there's a lot to be said about the way CDC has been messaging their health communications, their social marketing. It's confusing even to those of us that work in the field sometimes.

But this is how science works. The scientific process shows us that we gather our data, we test our hypotheses. And what I tell you today may be different than what I tell you tomorrow. But the key about their revised guidelines is it's based on data. Now, they probably could have done a little bit better job of showing that data that shows that the most levels of infectiousness happen in those first three days, so that they're pretty confident across the board that, if people quarantine or isolate, depending on their circumstances, for the first five days, and then mask up appropriately and carefully for the second five days, will prevent the spread of this virus and its variants.

But now is the time to err on the side of caution. Use those public health mitigation strategies that we know have worked. They've worked for centuries now, in terms of getting vaccinated, getting boosted if eligible, wearing an appropriate mask, being physically distant, avoiding large indoor gatherings. Those things work.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Hey doctor, Brian Cheung here. You know, we're trying to jazz it up because maybe a lot of people won't be able to have the same type of New Year's Eve festivities that they were planning on having, so maybe we'll just bring it to their homes on Yahoo Finance. But wanted to ask you, on a serious note, how should be people approaching any sort of gathering, specifically tonight, especially if it's a little bit too late to be going out to get a PCR test because you won't get the results until a few days later? How should people be approaching this with caution?

ANTHONY SANTELLA: Right. So in public health, we call this harm reduction. It's about minimizing the amount of harm we put in not only our own way, but those that we socialize with when we live, when we play, and we observe faith with. And so if you're going to socialize tonight, you know, if you have some rapid at-home tests, it's not a bad idea. They work best when people have symptoms. So if you're asymptomatic and just the worried well, it's probably not going to do much good.

Mask up. If you're not eating or drinking, keep the mask on. If you can, keep the windows open, if you live in a warm part of the country, where you can take your gathering outside. Limit your-- limit who you're going to be around. Those are all just small things that we can do to keep ourselves healthy. And really, monitoring our own health. If you're just feeling a little crummy today or have the sniffles or a bit congested, stay home. I know, in a normal year, whatever that really is anymore, that that might have not stopped us, but this is not the year to be playing around with that.

- Yeah, and I guess, you know, to kind of go back to the point of all the things that we've learned through the pandemic, you know, a lot of those things have been true for a while in terms of best practices to stay safe, but when it comes to kind of why we were ever using any of these guidelines, was to really, I think, initially reduce kind of the stress load on hospitals. And even though maybe as we were discussing eventually there, even though kind of the mild reports are out there about omicron and the people dealing with it, and hospital times are maybe coming down a bit relative to delta, what are you seeing maybe now in terms of just-- I mean, the charts are pretty staggering that show record cases now at this point. You know, and we all know hospitalizations kind of lag the case count. So I mean, how do you kind of stack up where hospitals are at right now, and whether or not they're prepared for this?

ANTHONY SANTELLA: Well, there's a few things to note here. One is, before we talk about hospitalizations, let's talk about our case counts. Our case counts are grossly underestimated. Right? Think about all those folks out there who have taken those rapid antigen tests at home, and those tests never get reported, or largely don't get reported out there. So just think about what people are posting on social media and other things, right? So those rapid antigen tests are not being really counted in our true case count. So those are underestimates right now.

In terms of hospitalizations, you know, we use those terms mild, moderate, and severe, but mild for someone who is immune-compromised or has multiple comorbidities can be moderate, severe, and sometimes even deadly. And so let's not, you know, just say, oh, it's just mild, right, because how someone experiences mild will vary tremendously. And our hospitals, they're at the brink of collapse.

You know, a conversation for another day is about the state of our US health care system, or lack thereof. But when you talk about a really fragmented system, where these health professionals, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, aides have been working around the clock to curb this pandemic, you know, there's only so much one can take. And so I worry about us assigning these terms like, well, the hospitalization count isn't as bad as we thought, or people are just having mild symptoms. But that can be earth-shattering even for someone who just has, you know, you know, a few mild conditions that may otherwise not really impact their quality of life.

- All important to think about, too, when we see kind of changing guidelines and isolation guidelines coming down, too. We'll see, I'm sure a lot of that might be revisited in 2022. But we'll leave it there for now. Dr. Anthony Santella, appreciate you coming on here to chat with us. Happy new year to you. Be safe out there.

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