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COVID: The U.S. health system ‘has been working on a very small margin’, doctor says

Family Medicine Physician Dr. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas joins Yahoo Finance to discuss whether the U.S. health care system would be prepared for another COVID surge as more cases of the Omicron variant are reported.

Video transcript

- The World Health Organization now says that Omicron variant has been detected in at least 38 countries, up from 23 just a day ago. That is multiple states in the US have now confirmed cases.

Let's bring in our Dr. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, family medicine physician practicing in New Hampshire. Thank you so much for your time. Doctor, hospitals are already seeing a surge in cases even before this new variant surfaced, particularly as so many people were traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday.

And we're seeing places like New York City saying that they are at 90% capacity. The governor has put an end to all non-elective surgeries. And in Massachusetts, I see they ran out of ICU beds at Mass University Hospital, seeing so much of an increase in COVID cases. Are we prepared if there is a surge with the new variant that is now in six states here.

DR. MARIE-ELIZABETH RAMAS: Yes, and thank you for having me. You know, I think that, are we prepared? We certainly could have done a better job in many places. What we're seeing is that, for the states that have had more success with getting COVID vaccination throughout their population, that they're having improved rates as far as hospitalizations are concerned and co-morbidities from COVID-19 infection.

And you are correct that, unfortunately, states like New Hampshire, neighboring Massachusetts, who have not been as resilient as far as COVID vaccination rates as well, they are having increased numbers with COVID infections. So we are in a place now, and this is a place that we've been in previous to Delta, where we have a sweet spot.

This is a place where public health is meeting personal life right now. And we have an opportunity to get those who have not been vaccinated to actually get vaccinated before Omicron arrives in mass to the United States. So we definitely have a ways to go.

- And doctor, we're seeing these headlines that hospital beds are filling up and that some of them are at capacity. Karina was just mentioning the ICU status completely at capacity. But I'm wondering exactly what does that mean. Because as I understand, it doesn't mean necessarily that there are no more beds available, it means that they're not necessarily staffed. I'm just wondering, do we have the resources, do we have the reserves to come in and bring more people from the sidelines out to get that capacity up.

DR. MARIE-ELIZABETH RAMAS: That's a great question. And so what we've been noticing and witnessing over the last 20 months here is that our American health care system has been working on a very small margin. Unfortunately, we are still in a place where our health care system is at strain. We are both lacking in both health care professionals, but we're also lacking in capacity in the actual bandwidth to take care of patients.

And I would add that it's not just for COVID, we still have patients that are having health care emergencies, that means that patients that are going through stroke, patients that have a heart attack. Those care measures are going to be delayed as well. And unfortunately, that's happened to my patients locally as well. So we have both an access and a capacity issue right now, as well as a supply issue as far as health care providers are concerned, both inside the hospital and on the outpatient side.

- The US and Europe are on completely divergent paths when it comes to trying to mitigate the risks of this new variant. President Biden laid out his five point plan yesterday. It's quite different from what's going on in Europe where, for example in Germany, they are now requiring all unvaccinated people to stay at home. There are strict curbs on all of them. Are we doing enough, in your opinion, with his new plan to make sure that we are dealing with this and we're able to get out ahead of it.

DR. MARIE-ELIZABETH RAMAS: So you know, I think that given our particular situation here in the United States, given the immense political strain that has been put on science and the advancement of science, I think that provides an additional challenge to how President Biden is able to roll out and provide public health measures and protections.

So are we doing enough? I think that, you know, as a family doctor, I would say enough would be having access for all patients to have the best amount of primary care. Because actually at the end of the day, our patients are going to need to talk to a family physician to come up with these decisions.

The difference is, is that from state by state level, legislation that's opposing evidence-based treatments like meth, like getting vaccinated for our communities, those are in direct opposition to even what our federal government is and CDC is recommending. So I think that what we need to do is we need to have a collective voice and an ability to make a decision collectively as a United States to make sure that we have the most evidence-based measures and mitigating factors as possible.

The way that we can do that is by allowing our primary care workforce to do their job well, compensate them well and compensate our patients well so that they can continue to live and be productive citizens and hopefully continue to contribute to our economy, which is already as well in a very precarious situation, given this new Omicron virus coming up.

We certainly can always do more and it's a difficult decision all around, but hopefully, we can learn from our decisions from the Delta wave with this new wave coming up.

- All right. Dr. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, family medicine physician in New Hampshire. We will have to leave it there. So many more questions. But thank you so much for your time.

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