“Willful negligence”: Dr. Rai says high risk activities leading to dire COVID-19 situation

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 8:07 AM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “Unfortunately, not only are the hospitals getting busier, but as we’ve seen in the recent weeks, even in Brown County, people are dying and young people are dying that didn’t need to,” says Prevea Health President CEO Dr. Ashok Rai.

Dr. Rai says people are being willfully negligent with their behavior and putting others at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Dr. Rai appeared on Action 2 News This Morning Thursday to discuss the dire situation at local hospitals and what we can do to help stop the spread. Dr. Rai joins us each Thursday. Have a question? Email it to


“It’s not like it was in March and April and May. We were learning about the virus. We learned certain activities probably not a good thing. Congregant settings. We saw it in factories. We have no excuse right now. There is nobody who doesn’t know how this virus is spread right now. At this time, we’re choosing to let our guard down. I have a definition on my phone of a term called willful negligence. It is the type of negligence that is deliberate with the intentional disregard for others. So we know the activities that will get us in trouble. Yet from legislators to public health officials to business owners to people having parties in their garages or weddings in their homes or their backyards, all of that is causing this problem. And we know the harm we are doing. And we’re choosing to ignore it. It’s willful negligence at a huge level. Unfortunately, not only are the hospitals getting busier, but as we’ve seen in the recent weeks, even in Brown County, people are dying and young people are dying that didn’t need to.”


"I think on Sunday is when we set a hospitalization record. Sunday-Monday in that transition period. And we continue to go up in our numbers, not down. So we have many more in the hospital now than we did in the outbreak of the spring, the first time that we had gotten really bad. Now it’s much worse.

“I think probably one of my biggest concerns is it’s not only COVID that’s in the hospital. We need to take care of everybody who is sick or needs our care. From somebody having a stroke to a heart attack to breaking their hip or needing knee surgery, all of that needs to happen. We’ve seen the consequences of delaying care in the past and we can’t have that happen again. We have capacity. The physical capacity in hospitals--we can keep getting more beds, renting them, getting ventilators. It’s staff that’s the issue. Finding skilled staff to take care of everybody. And we’re getting at that point. I wouldn’t say the word ‘full’ but I’d say we’re nearing capacity to a level that every system is concerned. We are at the point between Prevea and HSHS of looking at where can we get more staff from? Do we have to go outside of the state to bring people in to help? That is the dire straits that this community is in. And there’s only one way to undo it. It’s to stop that behavior that go us here.”

CLICK HERE to track hospitalization numbers in Wisconsin.


You’ve been exposed to someone who has symptoms and is getting tested. Does that mean you should quarantine?

“The most important thing is if you’re experiencing symptoms, you should get tested right away. If you’re not experiencing symptoms and that person’s test is not back, you need to use smart behavior. Mask in public, try to maintain social distancing and wait for that person’s test to come back. If that person’s test is negative and you have no symptoms, you’re both OK. If that person’s test is positive, you need to quarantine for 14 days since the last time you had contact with that person. About five or six days into your quarantine, it’s recommended that you get tested. Not to get you out of quarantine, but to see if others that you’ve been in contact with need to quarantine as well.”


Wisconsin cases are increasing. Does that mean masking is not working?

“I get that question a lot. Our numbers are significantly elevated and the mask mandate being renewed has created that question. And it’s a good question. The number one thing we’re starting to see when we start to talk to people who are positives, it’s due to mask non-compliance. Not wearing it. Being at a wedding with 250 people, 300 people. Those are pretty common stories in the people we’re admitting into the hospital. Or being at a bar, or gathering for a Packer game or another football game. It’s people not wearing the masks. It’s really hard to say the mask mandate’s not working when it’s actually not a mask mandate when people aren’t wearing it.”


Are employers obligated to inform their staff when workers test positive?

“The word obligation is a tough one here. It’s really public health’s role to be involved there and do that contact tracing within the employer setting. The employer, with permission of the employee who is positive, could start that process. And it’s in the employer’s best interest to do that because they don’t want to see spread within their environment. But there is no legal obligation for that, other than making sure they are following the instructions of public health, getting the positive person out of there for 10 days. And it is public health’s responsibility to do that contact tracing. An employer can be very helpful in that, but not obligated to do it.”


Sports teams have access to rapid testing. Why doesn’t the public?

“If you were to paint the ideal world of battling COVID-19, we’d have the ability to test everybody all of the time. That’s just not a reality right now. Certain organizations have the finances to go ahead and purchase their own equipment and their supplies to test every day. Such as the Big Ten schools. Such as the NFL. Some of those rapid tests are good. Some aren’t. So it’s important to make sure what you’re buying is working for you. And we hope that theirs’s is going to work for them. A priority of the university systems was to stay open and be open, so they’ve gotten rapid antigen testing. It’s not exactly what we’d call our gold standard, but if you do it enough, it works well in those settings. And it seems to be working here locally at UWGB and also at Eau Claire.”


“We would like to see more data coming out of the state, as well, to pinpoint areas--maybe not where we should go or shouldn’t go--but to see if we need to do more testing in an environment. Should we be moving testing to certain ZIP codes or making sure people have access to them in certain parts of the city or the county? So that data is necessary. Hopefully more and more of it will come. The data is available because people give their address--as long as they give an accurate one. As far as age groups, we do get that. That’s published through the DHS website where they look at age group trends. But more importantly, we should all be safe no matter where we go. And that’s really important to maintain that physical distance and wear that mask.”


“It’s the best studies that we have. Since March, the science continues to change. But early on, they looked at the distance that a respiratory droplet would travel. About six feet or less. And that’s why the six foot radius is there. And then how much exposure time would it take for you to become infected and what are the statistical chances of you being infected. And they got to a 15-minute number. It’s important to remember that 15 minutes is cumulative in a 24-hour period. So it could be five-to-six times that you’ve interacted with that same person. If those minutes add up to 15, that would be considered a close contact.”


“Please go get your flu shot. It’s the single thing that we are just literally begging the public to do. Getting influenza at the same time as COVID-19 could be lethal for most of our population. We need you to get that flu shot.”


“The worst possible thing we can do is have people ignore their health care again. If you’re having symptoms of anything or need health care, we are all open to you. We have that staff available, it’s just every day it’s more and more taxing on the system. We have to be worried about that. We are worried about that.”


“Every school district asked somebody in health care and public health at some point, what’s the criteria to start school? And we talked about percent positivity, we talked about cases per 100,000. And when they started school, probably not in the area we were comfortable with. And now we are considerable higher, if not in some cases double the numbers of percent positivity. And we just talked about hospital capacity. That was another metric. We said, ‘let’s see what’s going on in health care.’ I just mentioned, it’s getting stressed. Personal protective equipment levels are dropping drastically because of the patients we have. Every criteria that says you shouldn’t do public activity is being checked. So I’m not sure why they’re having that game.”

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