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Dr. Rai talks at-home saliva kits, contact tracing app, and vaccination updates

Published: Dec. 24, 2020 at 10:38 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - There’s a lot of excitement in the medical community for at-home COVID-19 testing and a new contact tracing app from the state of Wisconsin.

“I think since March, since we’ve been doing this – the number one thing that I’ve said is -- what we need to defeat this virus is really robust testing because you find out who’s positive, That person isolates, prevents the disease from spreading to the next person,” says Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai.

Dr. Rai joined us Thursday on Action 2 News This Morning to discuss these new tools, give us an update on health care vaccinations and answer your questions about COVID-19.

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursdays. Have a question? Email news@wbay.com.

Previous Dr. Rai segments: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

VACCINE ROOMS

“As you see here, this is our vaccination area at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital, you can see the booths, as I call them, set up for people to get vaccinated, these are filled throughout the day, with our employees, both at Prevea and HSHS, getting their vaccines, and then there’s a waiting room right outside of it where people spend 15 minutes socially distanced as we observe them. We’re just under 2,000 people vaccinated since last Wednesday, and we started with 20 people on day one, so we’re pretty happy with the results. We’ll keep going forward, we’ll take tomorrow [Christmas] off, but we’re vaccinating today. This is just dress rehearsal, though. And 2,000 people a week is just not enough, so we need to find ways to get through here faster and open up larger and larger sites so we can get through our citizens. So we’re just rehearsing right now and making sure our people are protected – that’s obviously a priority for us – but we also wanna make sure that we’re ready for the community, that’s when we really will have a celebration.”

AT-HOME SALIVA TESTS

Wisconsin is giving out free COVID-19 at-home saliva test kits. CLICK HERE to request a kit.

“Pretty excited about that. I think since March, since we’ve been doing this – the number one thing that I’ve said is -- what we need to defeat this virus is really robust testing because you find out who’s positive, That person isolates, prevents the disease from spreading to the next person. You only know that if you test and to be able to test broad people – that’s why we have so many testing sites and encourage their use. But to be able to do it at home – the technology is there, they’re using an outside company called Vault. All you have to do is go to the DHS website and register for that, and it’s about the same turnaround time as if you were to drive through, but this way you don’t have to leave your house. I think it’s a great alternative.”

WISCONSIN CONTACT TRACING APP

Wisconsin now has an app that allows people to get alerts if they may have been exposed. CLICK HERE for more information.

“Remember, for testing to be really successful, you need contact tracing with it. It’s test, trace, and isolate. We’ve said that, once again, since march. So the ability to contact trace is really important. To know that somebody’s positive, and you’ve been around them. And through the app, it’s protected – their privacy’s protected - I know that’s a concern. But knowing that you’ve been less than six feet for more than 15 minutes from somebody who turned positive, is amazing because with contact tracing, it’s a phone call, and it’s what you remember, when you’re positive. This kind of takes – it adds an extra layer to contact tracing, it doesn’t completely replace it, but it’s a really good thing that we’re doing. We’ve been asking for it since March, it’s now December, I’m glad we have it.”

ANTIBODY DRUGS

Dr. Rai is quoted in a New York Times article about antibody drugs going unused.

“It’s really disappointing when we look around the county, that – you’ve got a treatment that, it may help people. It’s not a complete therapy, but it may help people from needing to go to the hospital. Which, really, when you look at what we’ve been trying to do in COVID-19 is prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed so we can take care of everybody. So it’s a drug that may prevent that – especially if it’s given early enough. But a lot of health care systems aren’t being as aggressive in going out and finding people. There’s a lot of nuances, like we’ve talked about. It’s not easy [to administer] because you’re bringing COVID-positive patients into an infusion center. We’ve been able to set all that up and I think we’re over 150 people infused so far and it’s because we’re purposeful about it. We call people every morning that are positive that have risk factors and try to get people in, but we need the public to be knowledgeable about it – especially if you have a loved one in assisted living or a nursing home that turns positive – that’s the most ideal candidate, because when we have an outbreak in those settings, that’s what overwhelms a hospital. So we need to be more purposeful about that.”

CHRISTMAS SURGE

“Very concerned because we still are admitting patients to the hospital today that had some sort of traced exposure to Thanksgiving. You know, a family member turns positive, then another one turns positive, that person goes to work and then another person is interacting with that person and then all of a sudden eventually gets to somebody at risk and they’re in the hospital. And we have evidence of that and it’s something that’s preventable. So as we look at Christmas, and it’s a time to get together, we need to find other ways to do that over the next few days. We need to look at virtual options, stay with the family that you live with, so everybody’s around to celebrate Christmas and more importantly – let’s get everybody to Easter, let’s get everybody to the next holiday until we are done with COVID-19, which we have hope for, but that hope – it doesn’t exist unless we take care of everybody now.”

VACCINE AND ANTIBODIES

Can the COVID-19 vaccine make you sick if you have COVID-19 antibodies?

“When we talk about getting sick, there’s normal immune responses to getting a vaccine. And if you’ve been previously exposed to the antigens, so in this case, COVID-19 or any foreign substance, and then you are trying to develop a immune response by getting a vaccine, sometimes that response can be a good vigorous response. So the things that people experience if they’ve had COVID-19 in the past and get the immunization, is what we’ve talked about – that sore arm, those fevers and chills, that headache, not feeling great for a day, they get that, just like other people can get that. They may get a more pronounced version of that. But more importantly, it’s really important to know that all that goes away very quickly, too. So it’s kind of like getting your second shot, you’ve already been exposed to it, and then you get a second shot, which you’re supposed to do with the COVID-19 vaccine and we know that that sore arm is a little bit worse on that second shot – the headaches may be a little bit worse on that second shot. It’s kind of like getting your second shot on the first shot type of situation if you’ve had covid-19. And once again, it’s a great sign, your body is actually having an immune response to the vaccine, which means long term, hopefully a year or longer, you will remain immune to it and your body will be able to react.”

SHOULD WE EXPERIENCE SYMPTOMS AFTER A VACCINE?

“Everybody’s body is going to react differently to the vaccine or to any substance that comes into it. So it’s not a bad sign if you don’t have these effects after a vaccine, it’s not a bad sign if you do have the effects after the vaccine. You know it’s working if you have the effects, but it’s still working if you’re not feeling that. And everybody has a different ranking system – some person’s sore arm is – wow, that’s really sore. For a person, say, who works out every morning, that sore arm is just normal. So it’s important to understand that everybody’s gonna relate to the side effects – not really side effects – but the effects of the vaccine differently.”

COVID ANTIBODIES AND VACCINE NEED

If you have COVID-19 antibodies, do you need to get the vaccine?

“Most definitely. I think the CDC was pretty clear on this. We’ve been pretty clear on this. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, so in other words, you’re not in that 10-day isolation period - your symptoms are gone from having COVID-19, you’re fully recovered – you should still get the vaccine even if it’s in that 90-day window. The CDC recommends it, we recommend it as well.”

WHEN WILL PEOPLE AGES 65-74 BE ABLE TO GET THE VACCINE?

“It’s important to know that the phases right now that have been presented are suggestions to the state, so the state could refine that, so we still have to wait for that. But all of these phases will overlap. And hopefully the government will keep a cadence of vaccine coming to healthcare providers so we can kind of move through that very quickly. So just because it’s 75 and above today, they easily could say, it’s 65 to 75 in a week or two. We want to be moving through these phases as quickly as possible. They’re going to overlap, and I think people need to understand that. So it doesn’t mean that if you missed it – if you’re a health care worker and all of a sudden we start immunizing 1B, that you can’t get it, so there’s overlap in that sense, but all these phases are going to overlap. And hopefully, we’ll hear soon from the government about allocation, and hopefully we’ll start getting it much quicker and we can get it into arms.”

WILL PEOPLE KNOW WHICH VACCINE THEY’RE GETTING? PFIZER OR MODERNA?

“You know when your provider creates that appointment. If you’re going to a health care provider for it, or say you’re going to public health and they set up immunization stations – we don’t know how it’s going to work in the future – but you will know ahead of time which of the two you’re getting, because you’ll have to also make – you’re essentially going to be making two appointments. The Pfizer vaccine, you’re going to make two appointments 21 days apart. Moderna, you’re going to make two appointments 28 days apart, so you’ll know through that. You’ll be able to ask and people will be able to disclose to you at what point you’re gonna get what vaccine. And remember, you can’t start with Pfizer and get your second shot from Moderna. Once you’re in that track, that’s what you finish with.”

IF YOU CAN’T GET THE COVID VACCINE, WOULD IT BE HELPFUL TO GET PNEUMONIA AND FLU SHOTS?

“So we always recommend keeping up on your vaccinations, especially the influenza and pneumonia vaccine as we head into the winter season. But it’s also important to know that if you plan on getting the COVID vaccine, you have to stretch out your vaccinations at least 14 days apart. So you want to make sure -- if you’re going to get other vaccinations, it’s more than 14 days from when you’re eligible to get the covid-19 vaccination on both sides, and remember the COVID-19 vaccine is two shots.”

IF YOU DON’T HAVE SYMPTOMS, SHOULD YOU STILL GET TESTED, AND HOW OFTEN?

“So we call that surveillance testing and we’re still able to do that here in Brown County, and we want more people to do it. I don’t think we have a real good picture of what’s going on in our county and if we wait for hospitalizations to judge that picture, that’s too late. That’s that lagging indicator. We want people to get tested. How often? To be honest with you, there’s no real great science on that. I would love it if everybody got tested weekly. But at least every couple weeks, even if you don’t have symptoms, because if we do find you’re positive, we can isolate you and prevent the spread. There is more spread going on in this community than we know about and if we wait for people to start dying, being in the ICU, that’s too late. This is a great time to get that testing – surveillance testing – and get more control over the virus.”

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