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Austin doctor says spike in cases may be due to 'pandemic fatigue'

Dr. Pritesh Gandhi discussed spiking COVID-19 numbers, how prepared health care workers are for another potential wave and how to celebrate Halloween safely.

AUSTIN, Texas — The leading doctors and scientists in the country have been warning of a COVID-19 surge in the fall. And it appears some areas in the U.S. are starting to see the number of coronavirus cases rise. 

Dr. Pritesh Gandhi joined KVUE's Bryan Mays to discuss the situation.

Bryan Mays: "Let's start with that spike in cases. We saw the cases spike back in July here in Texas, and then the numbers went back down slowly. Why, in your opinion, are the numbers on the rise once again?

Dr. Pritesh Gandhi: "You know, it's a combination of factors, right? We've been through this before. We had a seven-day increase at the very beginning of September. This was after Labor Day. We could really pin it to this. Now we're in the middle of a 15-day increase in the number of hospitalizations and the average number of hospital admissions and the number of new cases. We're feeling that here in the region and statewide ... it is probably a combination of not just returned to school – so, I think we've actually done OK on that front. I think it's more of the fact that there's a little bit of pandemic fatigue. Right? I mean, we've all been at this since March. You want to hang out with your friends and your family. It's hard to wear a mask all the time. And so, I think we're just feeling the effects of pandemic fatigue. And in that process, some of these numbers are starting, it's starting to slip."

Mays: "Hospitals [in] Austin were busy during the spike back in the summertime. Do you think that helped them maybe better prepare for another surge in cases should we see that this fall?"

Dr. Gandhi: "Absolutely. I have nothing but the utmost confidence in our health care workers and our hospitals and in federally-qualified health centers like the one that I work at here. We are prepared. We are prepared because we're professionals who are working on the front lines and we've been following science-based, evidence-driven guidelines. So, we're prepared from a staffing perspective. We are now increasingly prepared from a PPE perspective. And we've, we've had the benefit, for better or worse, of having the reps to know what works and what doesn't work as it relates to this virus. And so, we are prepared to deal with it. But this still is avoidable, right? I mean, I'm not guaranteeing that we're going to have this third wave. I mean, I think that there are still things we can do to mitigate this rise in the number of cases and our percent positivity rate and other things."

Mays: "Let's talk about Halloween. It's a week from Saturday. What are your concerns? What are your recommendations for those who still hope to celebrate the holiday in some way?"

Dr. Gandhi: "Look, I think about it all the time. I've got three young daughters. All of their costumes are ready to go. I understand the desire to be outside and be with friends.

So, what we are planning on doing is that we have talked to many of our neighbors. They're prepared to be outside with their tables in different piles of candy so our kids can go to the homes that they know, the circles that we already isolate with and be able to do trick or treating in that way. And for children who may have a compromised system, who may be perhaps more at risk of complications from this virus – you know, I have a good friend that, that told me that they are hiding candy in the yard, sort of doing an Easter egg-style trick-or-treat. And then they're going to walk with their friends and just walk around in their costumes. So, I think that there are really individualized things that you can do to make Halloween as normal as we can for our children. 

But this is not the time to let up in terms of their cautions we're taking. Wear a mask. Please don't go door-to-door for hours on end. Try to stay within the circle of people that, you know, maintain your distance. If you do those things – wear a mask, social distance – I think we're going to be in good shape. There is a larger concern here, though, around again, this pandemic fatigue. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it's coming in the spring with vaccines and other things. We've got to get through the fall and winter and that means sticking to our principles here on masks and social distancing."

Mays: "One last question, doctor, while we have you here. I want to give our viewers a bit of hope from someone like you. Can you share with us some good news as a pretense, the virus and how it's being dealt with here in the state of Texas?"

Dr. Gandhi: "There is a lot of good news. Scientists are working around the clock to put out vaccines at [a] record pace. There are multiple vaccines in the pipeline, many which are, [have] had the last stage of trials. And so, we expect these vaccines to come out in the spring. 

No. 2, hospitals are increasingly using therapeutics, medications that are effective against this virus, that are lowering the overall death rate. So, we are more prepared and equipped to deal with the complications of this virus today than we were many months ago. Three clinics like the ones that I work at have protocols and procedures in place to screen patients so that it is a safe environment for patients and for our staff. And so, we are doing this. The American people are strong and resilient. We will get through this virus. There are just common-sense things we need to do to be able to bridge ourselves to the vaccines in the spring, to bridge ourselves over the fall and the winter. But this will end and it will end by following just basic public health fundamentals that we've been talking about since the beginning. Social distancing, masking, not putting yourselves in situations where there's increased risk of virus transmission."

WATCH: Austin doctor discusses tracking rising COVID-19 case numbers

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