Dr. Max Gives Us the Facts

CBS's medical correspondent on what to do if you experience COVID-19 symptoms, the importance of short-term treatments - and when it's safe to reopen the city

16 Apr 2020 | 11:17

Now, more than ever, New Yorkers are looking for medical advice from trustworthy sources. That is why we are fortunate the pandemic hasn’t stopped Dr. Max Gomez from lending his expertise to all of us at home during this time of uncertainty. Reporting from a makeshift TV studio in his living room, he is doing his part to educate viewers about COVID-19.

In his segment “Max Minute,” he’s been weighing in on virtually every coronavirus-related topic. In addition, he gives practical advice to New Yorkers like whether it’s safe to go to the laundromat and how to social-distance in crowded apartments. During his more than 30-year career in broadcast journalism, he earned 9 Emmys. For his coverage of the 9/11 attacks, Gomez was given an Excellence in a Time of Crisis award by the NYC health department.

After a virtual editorial meeting with CBS, where he has served as medical correspondent since 2007, the doctor took the time to counsel us on best practices for staying safe. As for symptoms, he said to watch for fever, cough, fatigue and loss of sense of taste or smell. If you are experiencing any of these, he advises that you call your local hospital or doctor’s office for a phone triage to determine the next steps.

Why is it important to wear a mask when going out?

The main usefulness for masks is to keep you from getting somebody else sick. And you might be one of those asymptomatic propagators, or spreaders, or one of those people who got only mildly sick. You might be out there spreading it if you didn’t have a mask on. If you cough, sneeze or even just breathe or talk, it’s pretty much all being caught by the mask. If you’re wearing it and you’re not sick, it reminds you not to touch your face. That’s one of the main ways you can get infected- touching your eyes, nose, mouth. It doesn’t do very much to prevent you from breathing in some infected droplets, but even a little bit is better than nothing.

After shopping for groceries, what should be the cleaning procedure?

You absolutely need to wash your hands; you can’t wash them too often. You can try to clean and wipe down your groceries and things. I don’t happen to think that makes a huge difference, but I know a lot of people are doing it. Studies are that the virus doesn’t really survive very long at all, just a few hours, perhaps, on cardboard. The study I saw was somewhere from four to six hours on cardboard and cloth. Let’s say you have someone who is infected handle your box of cereal and you pick it up with your gloves and take it home, but then you don’t wipe the box down. You’d have to almost immediately, in the next few hours, pick up that box without your gloves, touch it exactly in the place that the person who was infected touched it, get the virus on your hands, and then in relatively short order, touch your face.

What symptoms should we be watching for?

The number one symptom is fever. Fever and fatigue that comes on pretty suddenly. The flu is sort of like that, and it’s a similar thing where you could be okay in the morning, and by lunchtime, you’re feeling like you got hit by a truck. It turns out that the sudden loss of smell or taste is another symptom that sometimes comes on even before you get really sick. A dry, unproductive cough is another signal. Some people say they get some gastrointestinal symptoms, but that can be so many things.

If people have those symptoms, what should they do?

What you don’t want to do is show up at the hospital or your doctor’s office unannounced. Because if you really are sick, that’s a good way to spread it to everybody else. Or if you’re not sick, and the waiting room is filled with people who are sick, that’s a good way for you to get sick. So the thing to do is, ahead of time, get your local hospital’s main number and your doctor’s phone number. And then if these things start to come on, call and ask for advice and then they’ll do a phone triage. Also, have a thermometer at home because then they’ll say, “What’s your temperature?” and you’ll say, “I don’t know,” and that’s not going to be helpful.

When do you think we’ll be seeing a vaccine?

We are not going to see a vaccine in any significant numbers for the general public for two years at least. People are saying 12 to 18 months, but then let’s say you find a vaccine that looks like it’s effective. Well, now you’re going to have a couple of billion people across the globe who are going to want that. So it’s going to take that long to ramp up the production of this. And then you’re going to have to decide how you’ll prioritize it.

Tell us about short-term treatments that can work.

What is much more important in the short run is a treatment, that can be stem cells, some of these antiviral drugs. It might be hydroxychloroquine; we don’t know about that yet. One very important thing is going to be these antibodies; convalescent serum is what it’s called. Somebody who has recovered from this has antibodies in their plasma. You would sequence those antibodies and then you can manufacture those and call them monoclonal antibodies, and you can turn them into a drug. Those antibodies go after the virus-infected cells.

When do you think the city should be resuming activity?

The rush to re-open is courting disaster. Whether the date is May 1, which is still being pushed by some, or later in the month, premature re-opening will inevitably lead to a resurgence of covid-19 infections, increased hospitalizations and a tragic surge in the death rate. Yes, we’re seeing the so-called curve flattening but the only reason the curve is flattening is because we have been practicing social distancing. And if we stop doing that, mark my words, you will see the curve go back up and people will start to die again in big numbers. The ONLY way we can have safe re-opening of the economy and society is if we have massive, universal, reliable, accessible, affordable testing so we know who is infected and must be quarantined. We are NOWHERE near that ... after 2 months we’ve barely tested 1% of the population. That’s not enough unless you’re in the camp that’s willing to trade hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of excess deaths in order to get back to “normal." That’s not a trade-off I’m willing to make.

To learn more about Dr. Max’s work, visit www.drmaxgomez.com and for his Max Minute segments, newyork.cbslocal.com/tag/max-minute

"The ONLY way we can have safe re-opening of the economy and society is if we have massive, universal, reliable, accessible, affordable testing so we know who is infected and must be quarantined." Dr. Max Gomez