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There will be no ‘blue or red states’ only ‘covid-colored’: Biden COVID-19 Task Force Member

University of Minnesota Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and a member of Biden's COVID-19 Task Force Dr. Michael Osterholm joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the outlook for COVID-19 as cases hit record highs in the United States.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to "Yahoo Finance Live." Of course, the market's been reacting positively to the vaccine news we got from Pfizer earlier this week. But it's overshadowing a worrying spike in coronavirus cases, as the nation continues to set new daily case counts here in the here. We've heard warnings from President-elect, Joe Biden, talking about why the next few months, mask wearing is going to be rather important.

But let's dig into that issue a little bit more here, as one new doctor or to that new coronavirus task force for president-elect Biden warns the next few months here could be COVID hell. Joining us now is Dr. Michael Osterholm, University of Minnesota, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. And Dr. Osterholm, appreciate you taking the time. I know you're very busy here, trying to parse out this kind of transition phase, in terms of handling the pandemic right now. In terms of that front, what are you seeing play out here? And what are you trying to stress to Americans, as you come on board here in this new task force to take over and trying to get this under control?


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. And in terms of the task force and working with the President-elect and Vise President-elect, right now, we really don't have the detailed agenda that's being crafted as we speak. So I would just say that there really is an effort being made. First of all, be prepared to hit the ground running on January 20. And number two, in the meantime, even though not in control of the government, as such, what can we pull together and share with the states and cities out there that have often been left to their own devices, in terms of trying to respond to this pandemic so that in fact, that that kind of information and support can be there. So you know, you'll be hearing much more, I think, and the very, very near-term, in terms of what the transition team is working on.

AKIKO FUJITA: On that transition process, Doctor, we've heard a lot about some of the challenges other departments and agencies are facing right now. Because the Trump administration isn't necessarily on board with the transition, as they look to these legal fights in individual states. From your standpoint, as we try to craft a more comprehensive COVID policy, to take effect in January. How big of a hurdle does that create for you?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, you know, I wouldn't say it's a hurdle yet. I can't comment on that. Just as a member of the task force, I know that the leadership of the task force, as well as the staff and the transition team, are working on that issue.

You know, as you know from listening to people like Tony Fauci and others, you know, we've had a fair amount of information exchanged that already has occurred over the recent months. And that's continuing. You know, there's a fair amount of transparency in that piece. It's just a matter of what the actual points are that will be made a priority. So I think, at this point, that will work out. And we surely, both those task force members and as our just everyday professional careers, we are already communicating with people at HHS on an extensive basis.

ZACK GUZMAN: And Doctor, as one of those new members of the task force as well, as you said, just an expert in, kind of, getting this under control, I'd be curious to get your take on what you might stress to the task force, in terms of changing some of the strategies we've seen fail under the Trump administration. Specifically, I'd point to what's playing out in El Paso right now. It went from three mobile overflown morgues there, to four, now 10.

The city, despite having only under 700,000 people there, has more cases, more hospitalized patients than some states. And we've seen, you know, officials there, grappling the mayor, battling the governor, battling the county judge, and all this. What are you looking to do differently when it comes to actually implementing some changes to protect Americans?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, the first thing that has to happen is we have to have a story to tell America. We have to be able to explain to them what's happening. You know, this is the virus, versus us. This is not the virus, versus one group of politicians, versus another, one regional area against another, hospitals, versus what goes on in the community. This is us, versus the virus.

You know, I said yesterday that we are entering this period that I call COVID hell. You know, back on Labor Day, we were at about 23,000 cases of new coronavirus infection every day. Today, we're going to be in the 130,000 to 140,000 again. And that number is going to keep rising rapidly.

And you know, we've been predicting this, as a combination of pandemic fatigue. People just being tired of trying to avoid the public and places that puts you at increased risk, pandemic anger. We're up to a third of the US population doesn't believe this pandemic is real to begin with. So why adhere to any kind of public health recommendations?

And then, we just have indoor air. We have a situation. We're going indoors right now. We know that virus concentrations build up inside. And transmission is much more there.

So we have to tell the story of what's coming. People don't want to hear that El Paso isn't an isolated event. El Paso, in many instances, will become the norm.

And you know, we have health care systems right now that are overwhelmed already right now. And we're talking about potentially doubling the number of cases over this time period before the President-elect even takes office. And so I think that the message is how do we get through this?

We need FDR moments right now. We need fireside chats. We need somebody to tell America, this is what in the hell is going to happen. And this is what we've got to do about it in a way that they believe it. They understand it. They feel it. And they see that someone is trying to lead them.

And that can be anybody. But I believe that the transition team surely is placing the President-elect, in particular, to help guide us. And his message has been very clear.

So just understand, every one on this screen will know a COVID-related event, either in yourself, or your family, or your colleagues in the days ahead. If you haven't had it happen already, it's going to happen. There won't be any blue or red states anymore. There won't be blue or red counties. It will be COVID color.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Doctor, to that point, we've seen a number of states, over the last few days, move more aggressively in implementing restrictions. We had Utah with that mask mandate earlier this week. Now, we've got these reports, suggesting that in New Jersey, schools could close down from the end of this month into January. How effective can these policies be, state by state, in the absence of a federal mandate?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: You know, they're going to have some limited impact. But let me just come back to a point. Because this has been, I think, a very confusing issue. And that is lockdowns.

If I interviewed 50 people today in the US for what they define a lockdown as, I could get 75 different answers. And I think that one of the challenges has been that there really is no understanding of what a lockdown is all about. We talk about the pain and suffering of the virus, about the pain and suffering to the economy and what it does.

You know, I'd refer everyone back to an op-ed piece in early August that Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, and I did in the New York Times. Number one, we predicted where we'd be right now. We said this would happen if we did nothing different.

Number two is that when you look at the personal savings rate in this country, it's now gone from about 8% to over 22%. We have a big pool of money out there that we could borrow. The historic low interest rates by the federal government, we could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for our losses to small companies to medium sized companies, for city states, county governments. We could do all of that.

If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks. And if we did that, we could drive the numbers down, like they've done in Asia, like they did in New Zealand and Australia. And then, we could really watch ourselves, cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year, and bringing back the economy long before that.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, Doctor, I really wanted to quickly ask you, before we let you go, about the vaccine push here too. Because that's going to be key for your task force. And when we look at that, there are increasingly worries that Americans just might not want to get the vaccine.

And you think about polling at 50% of Americans roughly, saying that they wouldn't want to get it. Talk to me about the incentives that the task force is going to have to work with to maybe push Americans to get it out there, since we know it's important to getting this pandemic under control. What do you see playing out?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Yeah, that's absolutely critical. You know, particularly, when you look at the fact that this virus infection has disproportionately impacted the Black, Indigenous, and communities of colors out there. It has. We have to understand that they also have reasons not to trust things like vaccines.

So while we all want all Americans to be vaccinated eventually, you know, we're going to have a hard time getting some groups who may be at the highest risk. And so we have an urgent need to begin educating the public about these vaccines, what they can do, what they can't do, about their safety-- again, telling a story. We need to tell a story.

And you know, we can't go from day to day, from crisis to crisis. How are we going to get to the point of protecting our country and the world? It's going to be getting to vaccines that are safe and effective. And it's going to take a while to get there.

So what do we do in the meantime? And that's, I think, what is the immediate issue right now. And what I see, I think all of us need to work towards, is how do we help Americans-- how do we help the world-- get to a time when we will have adequate supplies of the vaccine, and not have to have, you know, thousands and thousands of deaths before that happens.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and we'll see how that goes. But the new member of Biden's task force here, coronavirus task force challenged with exactly those goals. Dr. Michael Osterholm, appreciate you taking--