Dr. Rai says local hospitals are strained by new COVID-19 surge

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 10:12 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea Health, says hospitals across the state, including those in Brown County, are strained by the “critical” surge in COVID-19 cases, and it’s coming at an already bad time of the year for hospitals. We had a conversation with him Thursday on Action 2 News This Morning. These are quotes from Dr. Rai during that conversation.


“As far as cases go and hospitalizations go in Brown County and the state of Wisconsin, we’re not doing very well at all,” Dr. Rai said.

“Our cases per 100,000 are in a critical area. I would say our hospitalizations right now are also in a critical area.”

Brown County is one of 26 Wisconsin counties where the spread of the virus is “critically high.” The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports 1,109.4 COVID-19 virus cases per capita over the past two weeks, but new cases are on a downward trajectory. Statewide the average is 852.8 cases per 100,000 Wisconsinites.

“To explain that, especially this time of year, because the winter time is really when hospitals really get busier. Unfortunately we get snow, we get car accidents, we get traumas, we get people falling out of trees, we get people hanging up Christmas lights, heart attacks, you name it.”

“We don’t really have a system -- nobody does -- where you have 20 percent extra capacity just waiting there. And right now, I’d say anywhere, yesterday, anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of our hospital beds being used by COVID patients. That’s really significant because of the amount of staff that it takes to take care of a COVID patient is a lot more, too.”

He expounded on that: “We may have an empty bed -- you may be able to walk down our hospitals today and find an empty bed -- but you have to remember, a bed also needs nurses and physicians, and they’re tied up with, like I said, this extra COVID volume.”

The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported Wednesday there were 152 COVID-19 patients, including 44 in intensive care, in the 10 hospitals serving the 7-county Northeast Health Care Emergency Readiness Coalition region, which includes Brown County. Those 10 hospitals reported only 2 out of 207 ICU beds were immediately available Wednesday, 3 out of 33 intermediate care beds, 14 of 462 medical-surgical beds, and 52 of 254 negative-flow isolation beds.

“It’s very difficult right now. What that means for our area, people that are wanting to come into the hospital, sometimes if they’re from out of the area, they’re having to go 100-200 miles to find help.”

“What we really want to encourage that if you are sick, if you are having, say, chest pains or stroke-like symptoms, still come to the hospital. We will take care of you. It’s just extremely stressed right now, but if you need medical care you definitely should seek it.”


“I think it’s important to remind everybody, we still need about 1 to 2 weeks to try to figure out a little bit more about this variant.”

“I’ll remind everybody that variants happen, because every time this virus replicates, mistakes happen. Think of it as one long code of genes, and 10 mistakes, 20 mistakes, that happens in the other variants we’re seeing. Omicron has a lot more ‘mistakes’ on that line,” Dr. Rai said. “That’s what really set off the alarm bells of concern. What we don’t know is how exactly those mistakes are or that variant is going to act in our world, in the wild as we would say – in the lab versus in the wild.”

“Three things need to be looked at. Number one, is it more contagious than delta? If the delta variant still spreads faster than omicron, omicron won’t be able to take hold. So that’s the number one question. Second question is, does it make you sicker or less sick than delta? Obviously we’re going to have to hope for the less sick, but we’re worried about the more sick. The last thing is, the vaccines we have today, what exact dose is going to really protect us from omicron? And what I mean by that is, does a fully vaccinated person who has a booster have really good protection? And right now everything leads to believe that it should.”

“As we prepare for omicron, number one, let’s be smart. Let’s get tested, because our tests still pick up omicron. Even those rapid antigen tests, we found out early or late last week, that the antigen tests still work, so get tested but get boosted.”


“I think it’s like everything COVID. We have to use our brains and use the tools that we have. We already know that testing works. We should be very aggressive about testing. We should be doubling and tripling our efforts around testing, and making sure that people are getting tested, even if you’re traveling in and out of the country or in and out of the state. Make sure that we’re getting people tested so we have, isolate the people that are infected and prevent the spread.”

“The best thing you can do going into the holidays is get vaccinated if you’re not vaccinated -- and please, if you’ve gotten your full vaccinated, get boosted. (Everybody who’s fully vaccinated qualifies for a booster), so remember it’s only 6 months after Pfizer and Moderna, and two months after Johnson & Johnson.”

“When you gather, protect our most vulnerable. Make sure we’re masking around people that – if you have someone who is unvaccinated, make sure they’re masking, make sure if you’re going to be around someone who is vulnerable like a grandma or grandpa.”


“So, the FDA has approved it, so it has to go through a couple more steps to prescribe it. Right now, I’d say the data is medium at best: It protects you, or it may help 30% of people. We need to see how that really works in the real world and see if it’s truly useful or not.”

“It has a really interesting mechanism of how it prevents people from getting sicker, and it should work with omicron, but we want to learn more about it.”

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