Dr. Rai’s last appearance: It’s time to put the division aside

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 7:47 AM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It’s been one of the most challenging 15 months in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed countless lives, impacted our economy, taken a toll on our mental health and changed life as we know it.

One constant has been Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai. Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Rai has kept us informed on Action 2 News This Morning. Wednesday, May 19 marked his last segment as we round a corner on this disease.

“This virus, for some reason, divided us in a way that I would never have imagined. Now it’s time to put all that division aside. We have to move forward better as a society, as Brown County, as Wisconsin, as United States and I would hope that we could all take a breath this summer and just learn to be better friends, better family, better community moving forward,” Dr. Rai reflects.

In his last appearance, he discussed mask mandates, the need to get vaccinated and moving forward.

EASING OF MASKING GUIDELINES

“We’ve tried to say this for 15 months: let’s follow the science. The CDC looked at three or four major studies or journal articles that came out that really looked at the effectiveness of the vaccine. So this has everything to do with the vaccine and not about masks, really. It just showed how good the vaccine is. Things that we realized that we didn’t know in the early studies, that we started to study after we started to use the vaccine, that it prevented transmission and it prevented it really well. And when that science came out it was safe to say those who had been vaccinated should not have a mask on. It’s tough because it’s hard to balance that with those that still need a mask and unvaccinated, how do you not know that? It’s also important to read beyond the headline. There are certain circumstances where masking is still highly recommended: health care settings for example, schools for example. Those two institutions should not stop masking. Really when you start talking about crowded areas, it’s up to that business if they want to do that instead of asking who’s been vaccinated or not.”

ELDERLY AND UNMASKING

Is it safe for an elderly person who is fully vaccinated to unmask around those who are not?

“If you really looked at the science that the CDC did, I’d say yes, if you’re fully vaccinated--which remember is two weeks after the last shot of the series, you’re fully vaccinated--then it is safe to be out without a mask on. That being said, make sure you don’t have anything that would make you immune compromised such as cancer therapy, certain medications. If you’re worried at all, have that conversation with your physician. But if you’re not on immune-suppressing medications, you don’t have one of those diseases, you should be safe.”

VACCINATION RATE

“It’s hard to know where we need to go. I think everybody wants me to toss out a number: 60 percent, 70 percent. Really, it depends on what’s going on in the community as far as spread. We would love to see 100 percent. I don’t want to set a number and say we’re done. If you looked at other countries, it ranges from 60-to-70-to-80 percent depending on what’s going on. We’re not there yet, but we’ve made amazing progress since we started. If we go back to all the different episodes, we said we would be vaccinating the general public now, end of May-June. We’ve been doing that since April because we got 80 percent of our 65-and-older vaccinated very quickly. So, really now as we start to do 12 and up, we’re starting to see numbers go up every day. I do think when we get to that 60 percent-70 percent mark that we’ll start to definitely see this virus not having a home anymore. Remember, it’s not on a counter, it’s not in the air. It’s in us. That’s how the virus lives. If we keep taking away opportunities for this virus to live, the only way to that is vaccination, we will then move on.”

MENTAL HEALTH LASTING IMPACT

“We may suppress COVID through vaccination, and we may not have to deal with the virus itself, but the long-standing effects of losing 587,000 American citizens, that’s like wiping out all of Northeast Wisconsin and more, everybody watching. It’s that mental trauma. The businesses that have had situations. The children that have been quarantined, literally isolated. The mental health issues are only just starting to show. It will take not months, but years of focus on this. Some people are going to want to talk about COVID for a long time. That’s their way to process it. Some people are just going to be very silent about it but are hurting on the inside. Christmases, birthdays. It’s going to be a very hard couple years or more, decades, for us to get over this trauma. I think we have to recognize that as a medical community, but as a larger community that we need to take care of each other.”

MOVING ON

“It’s not like one of those mission accomplished situations. We are in a good place. We are in a great place. We can continue to be better. We want to be done with COVID. We want a normal summer. We want a normal fall. We want a normal life. For that to happen, we need to keep vaccinating and masking in certain situations for some time, and to make sure we’ve suppressed this disease and it doesn’t mutate, that we’re not living with it for another couple years. We can do that. We’re in a good spot today. I’m in a great spot today saying goodbye and having our community move on. In the end, it’s really up to everybody else getting vaccinated and moving forward.”

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