Dr. Rai: Resources needed for testing amid order extension
By Ben Rodgers
GREEN BAY – The extension of Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order April 16 due to continued COVID-19 fears doesn’t surprise Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea Health.
“I don’t think it surprises anybody that we’re going to get an extension because the current practices are working to a great extent,” Rai said. “We’re still seeing increases in people getting COVID-19, really the extension has not much to do with those increases, or the number of those people going up or down, it really has to do with the availability of resources.”
The doctor, one of several local health care leaders assisting in leading the response to the virus in Brown County, said Wisconsin needs more testing capabilities and more personal protection equipment (PPE), in that order.
“My No. 1 goal would be testing, because if we could test more and isolate, there would be a lot less PPE needed,” he said. “Really, if I could get one wish granted right now, outside of making COVID-19 disappear, it would be more testing and, being able to test as many people as we can. If we had 250,000 swabs here in Brown County, I’d want to be able to use all 250,000 tomorrow and be able to isolate those that are positive.”
Rai said Wisconsin was projected to peak in resource utilization April 14, but it will take two weeks to find out if that was true because the virus takes time to show symptoms.
He said lifting the current Safer at Home order could result in more flare ups of positive cases and a series of peaks.
“The Safer at Home order allows us to react to these flare-ups quickly, test and isolate,” Rai said. “Otherwise, those little flare-ups could become a forest fire.”
He points to New York, home to massive healthcare systems and hospitals in skyscrapers and how it only took a matter of days to overwhelm health providers, due to a lack of testing and PPE.
“We’re dealing with one of the most contagious viruses we’ve ever seen, in our career, and it spreads and it hurts people pretty quickly,” Rai said. “Those little fires become really big fires fairly quickly.”
The same concern was echoed by Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm April 16.
“Before we lift Safer at Home, the steps of testing and more robust public health measures must be in place,” she said. “These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus. If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again.”
Rai said Evers should consider using some of the innovation that has made the University of Wisconsin well regarded in the medical community along with Wisconsin’s strong manufacturing base to create the required equipment.
“There’s no magic solution here for this state other than to be more aggressive,” he said. “We’re a very, very innovative state. We have great universities, we have a great lab here. The governor needs to charge them to do more. Those state universities can do more with their labs. We’re one of the largest manufacturing states in the country and maybe the governor can start to look at that from a perspective of PPE and nasal swabs.”
For Wisconsin to be 100-percent prepared for this pandemic and the coming months, Rai said the governor, Legislature and public health departments need to be on the same page until a vaccine is created and distributed.
“It’s going to take time, and normal is going to be redefined every day,” Rai said. “Normal may be masking for a long time. You may not shake hands again. Hopefully, we’ll get out and be able to have schools open again by the fall.”
People wanting to rush to open everything back up, such as those currently demonstrating in Michigan, will only make matters worse for everybody, he said.
“If you rush it you’ll just rewind the clock and more people will be in pain again,” Rai said. “People will die and there’ll be a lot of pain involved, both economic and personal.”
He said so far social distancing has been working in Brown County as hospitals are not currently overwhelmed with an influx of patients with the virus.
“I would say Brown County in Northeast Wisconsin has done a really good job,” Rai said. “They’ve stayed home so we could take care of our patients and stay safe. I can’t tell you the level of appreciation I have for residents of Brown County.”
With the governor’s extended order, Rai said it has never been as important to continue social distancing, no matter how hard it can be.
“I think we’re going to continue to get better and better and better on keeping the numbers controlled if everybody cooperates with social distancing, and hopefully that gives the governor, healthcare and the private health sector enough time to prepare,” he said.