Dr. Rai discusses local COVID situation, omicron variant

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 7:35 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are high as we go into the holiday season.

Prevea President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai says we’re in a “bad place” when it comes to hospitalizations and cases in our area.

Dr. Rai joined us on Action 2 News This Morning to discuss what he’s learned about the new omicron variant and why it’s too early to say if it will be a milder infection than delta.

LOCAL SITUATION

“Right now we continue to be in a bad place. Our cases per 100,000 are higher than we have seen in a long time. Obviously a lot of news on hospitalizations throughout the state, actually, just hospitals are seeing a lot of COVID and seeing other illnesses, so there’s a combination of that going on right now. Overall, our percent positivity isn’t where we want it, our cases per 100,000 aren’t where we want it, especially as we head more into the holiday season we’d like to see those numbers down a little bit.”

OMICRON VARIANT

“I think it’s once again important to understand we’re very early in this, which gives us time to prepare. Paying attention to data. The CDC/IDSA call for clinicians this weekend gave us a little bit more information and a lot more guidance of wait, there’s a lot more coming. Really, it’s the same three buckets we talk about with every variant to remind everybody, is this variant, is it more transmissible? Is it going to spread faster? We saw some data from South Africa where it spread pretty exponentially. You look at that curve--it almost goes straight up. You have to understand, sometimes I forget this in my own geography, that South Africa is in the southern hemisphere. It’s our winter, it’s their summer. They were not seeing a lot of delta at the time or a lot of disease activity when this spiked up. So what would omicron do in the face of a lot of delta? What would it do in Green Bay or in Wisconsin or in America? We really don’t have good data on that. So we have to wait.

“Unfortunately, the early parts of data shows that it’s highly transmissible. Some people have estimated maybe three-to-four times more than delta. But once again, we have to wait to get facts on that. The second thing is what about vaccines and if I’ve had COVID before, am I protected? Well, I think some scientists early on have said that the vaccines that we have are going to provide some level of protection, especially against severe disease, going into the hospital. But we don’t know what it’s going to be like overall for mild illnesses. As we see some of those cases happening in South Africa, having COVID prior may not provide the level of protection that, say it did, in other areas. So that’s one of the other things to look at. Lastly is, how sick is it going to make us? What kind of response or what does this virus do to our bodies? That’s really early. I think some people picked up on some South African data over the weekend and said, hopefully this is milder. Well, yes, some of the initial data said it was mild infection. The hospitalizations didn’t really require that ICU level of care, the amount of oxygen. That’s all good news, but you have to balance that with the fact that the majority of the patients we were seeing were younger, they normally wouldn’t have required that. So I think it’s a little early now to say this variant causes a milder illness. Of course, we all hope for that. Not that we ever hope for any kind of illness, but if we’re looking at a variant that’s more transmissible, we hope it would be balanced out with less of an illness. It’s still too early on that. So, a lot more will come this week, especially on the severity. A lot more in the next week or two around vaccine efficacy as all the labs go out and they’re able to test this. We’ll see how much spread we have in the United States as we keep sequencing those positive tests.”

LONG COVID

“Rightfully so, we focus on people on die, unfortunately, and so many people have, but we forgot so many other people have gotten sick, did not die, but got long COVID symptoms. They could have been perfectly healthy going in, but are now short of breath or can’t hear or have ringing in their ears, or have impotence. There’s so many long COVID symptoms and we don’t talk enough about it. It was interesting over the weekend in that same presentation, they pointed out that people who got vaccinated had less of a chance of getting long COVID. Or even getting vaccinated after you got infected, the earlier you got it, the chances of getting long COVID were less. One of the most important things, though, that we can do when we go into a virus or getting infected is to take care of our health before we get infected. Not a lot of people are focusing on their own health. Last 18 months we’ve kind of fallen off the wagon. I definitely have. One of the other things we can do to prepare ourselves, whether it’s omicron, delta or whatever, is to start taking better care of our health. Eating better, exercising, making sure your body’s ready in case it gets infected.

“Some of the data that got presented this weekend should say that after you’ve recovered from COVID, that 10 days after recovery time, get vaccinated.”

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