Dr. Rai recommends wearing cloth masks to slow spread of coronavirus

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A local health care system is recommending people wear cloth face masks when out in public to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Handsewn face masks created by Marshfield community volunteers and donated to Marshfield Clinic, March 23, 2020 (WSAW Photo)

Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai talked about the reasons for the recommendation on Action 2 News This Morning.

"This is to prevent you from giving it to somebody," says Dr. Rai.

This was one of several topics Dr. Rai discussed with us Wednesday. Watch the videos in the story for all three segments.


Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that the White House Coronavirus Task Force is discussing recommending people wear masks. CLICK HERE for Dr. Fauci's comments.

Dr. Rai says, "Every local health provider is going to make their recommendation right now, but what we're recommending is for people to wear masks. This is somewhat against what the CDC and the WHO has recommended--not really against but kind of taking our own recommendations outside of our walls and expanding them.

"What that means is we want people to wear masks outside of the clinical setting. We don't want you to wear the kind of masks that we need--we don't want you to wear personal protective equipment. But if you're not in a hospital or clinic setting, we want you to think about wearing a cloth mask. And that's not to prevent you from getting coronavirus--I want to make that very clear. This is to prevent you from giving it to somebody. You have to act like you have it--I've said that many times.

"This is to prevent you from doing a couple of things:

1. A mask will prevent you from touching your mouth and your nose.

2. It will keep your respiratory secretions to yourself and not spread them as much--not 100 percent is going to be protected--but not as much to other people. We're trying to do everything to prevent the spread.

"This does not mean in any way that you get to go out and about because you have a mask. You should still be staying safe at home. But for those small times that you have to leave to get food, to go to the pharmacy, if you're an essential worker and you're going to work, wearing a cloth mask is important. When you get to a health care or clinical setting, you'll then wear a clinical mask. But when you're out and about, we're looking for a cloth mask on people. These are things you can make at home, the CDC has some recommendations on their website around that. They have not come out and said everybody should wear a mask. I think [Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] Dr. [Anthony] Fauci hinted at that yesterday. We're trying to take that one step above. We're trying to make sure our community stays safe. So from a Prevea perspective, we're saying, maybe you should think about a cloth mask when you go out."

In the midst of the coronavirus, Sue Peters and her husband Tony, have found a way to keep busy and help others.

"I'm retired and it's something I felt like I could help in some small way," Sue Peters said.

Sue said their task of making cloth face masks is something you can do at home if you have some sewing experience.

The Peters received instructions and a link to a video from ThedaCare on how to make cloth masks.


"You can just wash it. You should at least be changing that daily or washing it daily," says Dr. Rai.

"Remember what we're talking about here is trying to create a barrier, trying to prevent you from touching your mouth or your nose, so that type of cloth doesn't matter as much. Some people are looking at different filters or different cloth. But the whole point is to try to keep your secretions to yourself.

"So the material, we're looking at cotton materials that will be able to do that."

CLICK HERE for the CDC's coronavirus website.


"This could be hell of a bad two weeks," said President Donald Trump on Tuesday. "This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country. We're going to lose thousands of people."

Dr. Rai says, "I don't think you can minimize it at all. When you start talking about 100,000-to-200,000 people dying in such a short time period. If you think about some of the wars that have saddened this country the greatest--Vietnam, Korea--we're talking numbers almost double that for those individual wars. It's going to be a rough two weeks, months, and to be honest with you, emotionally, years to recover from what we're about to experience.

"We've had death and we've had tragedy in this country. We've been attacked on our own soil. But never have we seen this amount of death on our soil and in such a short amount of time."


"I definitely do not have a crystal ball on this. And I think the epidemiologists are trying their best with limited data--limited data because we have not been able to test as aggressively has we wanted to--trying to find a peak," says Dr. Rai.

"I pray everyday that this is our peak. If we're able to social distance and take care of the people that we're taking care of today, and really drive this point home--it's why I'm here in the mornings--is to really drive this point home--we can avoid a significant surge. And just kind of see the patients as they come in, not overwhelm health care.

"What happens in an impractical standpoint is if we start getting case after case after case and we overwhelm health care and we can't take care of the people, then the spread is very significant. That's when you get to what's happening in New York. If you apply the New York model to Wisconsin, and you looked at Wisconsin's current growth curve because of some of the metro areas, some people will say we'll peak late April. Right now, we're trying to make sure that doesn't happen the best we can."


"When we went two weeks ago, if we start rewinding the interviews, we would say well, your first symptoms are going to be fever. Then a week ago we said well, maybe your first symptoms are going to be loss of taste and smell. And it turns out you can go days without symptoms, spread the virus before you get your first symptoms. That's what we're really trying to prevent here, is that person without symptoms--we call it asymptomatic--that has COVID-19, we're all supposed to act like we have it--this one has it--and we're trying to prevent you from giving it to somebody else. This is the social isolation-plus-one theory that other countries have used to squash the spread down," says Dr. Rai.


People are actively working on research around treatments. Right now, given how rapid this virus is spreading, there have been other drugs that have been tried that are normally not meant for a virus, such as Azithromycin or Hydroxychloroquine. People are using that. I wouldn't say that they're using it and getting incredible success or we have a miracle cure out there," says Dr. Rai.

"Also, on the East Coast, they're taking people who have had COVID-19, getting them to donate their plasma, getting the antibodies out of that plasma, getting the antibodies out of that plasma, giving it to someone infected. We're waiting to see if that works or not.

"A couple of our local doctors have registered to be participating in some of these clinical trials. It's going to be awhile to know how well those work."


Walmart has announced that it will take temperatures of associates as they report to work.

Dr. Rai says, "It's one indicator. I think doing a temperature without asking if you have cold symptoms--if you have sore throat, you have shortness of breath, your taste or smell--without those other questions is not as useful. And the temperature needs to be taken carefully. The person taking it should be wearing personal protective equipment and not coming within two feet of somebody, taking their temperature. Having coronavirus transmitted to them from somebody without symptoms and then re-infecting the next thousand people in line. So we gotta make sure that if you're doing it, you're doing it correctly. And understand you have to ask the other questions that go along with taking the temperature."


Some retailers and grocery stores have announced early morning shopping hours meant for senior citizens. Is that safe?

"The best approach for a senior is staying within your four walls and having somebody else shop for you. There's no safe environment for somebody at risk, which includes somebody who is a senior, somebody with diabetes, somebody with lung disease. All of them should be as quarantined as they should be," says Dr. Rai.

"Is a senior hour better than nothing? Yes, but it's not ideal by any means.

"The best thing is to have somebody bring it to your home, leave it on your doorstep, inside your garage, and then you go out to get it. Wash your hands, hand sanitizing is really important."


"You do have to be very careful in work environments. That's where cloth masks in a work environment may be beneficial. Not that you won't catch it from somebody, but somebody would not give it to you. And then what you do when you come home, obviously hand sanitizing, and keeping as much distance as you can. It's a home environment so it's a little more difficult. But good hand hygiene is going to be doubly important in that setting," says Dr. Rai.


CLICK HERE to learn more about Isolation Centers in Wisconsin.

"There's part of our citizenship that when we tell them they need to isolate, doesn't have a place to go. Maybe there's a situation at home or they don't have a home. We need to find a place we can safely isolate them. They don't need health care at that point, they don't need treatment, they don't need to be in the hospital, but they definitely should not be out in public or in a home environment when they can infect other people," says Dr. Rai.

"Brown County has worked really aggressively on setting this center up. Really proud of living here. This should be a national model on what they were able to accomplish so quickly and were able to isolate people that generally in other cities would not be able to be isolated, and really try to contain that spread.

"We definitely don't want anyone coming into the hospital that does not have to be hospitalized. So by making sure we have a place to send people that have COVID-19 that don't need active medical care, but maybe don't have a place to go or have an environment that they can't go home to. That's what this is really for. It's once again trying to contain that spread."


"It has been extremely tough. Making that decision, we did that in the best interest of the community in the best interest of our employees. When we said we needed to stop seeing patients for elective reasons, making sure we would only see them for emergent reasons, obviously that takes away a lot of what we were normally doing every day," says Dr. Rai.

"Like many industries, a lot of what normal was is not normal this week. So we needed to close some clinics, significant amount of collapsing smaller clinics into larger clinics. And a lot of people, unfortunately, will be displaced for a short time. They'll be furloughed for a short time.

"Some have skill sets where we can deploy them in other areas. Some have skill sets where we can deploy them into the hospital when we get really busy. And others will need to wait until this is over and we can get back to our normal work, just like any other business.

"Really difficult decision. Tried to do it the best we could. And we'll continue to reassess that as the weeks go on."


Older people and those with underlying health conditions (heart disease, diabetes, lung disease) are considered at high risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, people of all ages can contract the illness and they can suffer serious symptoms.

The coronavirus is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

"The virus is found in droplets from the throat and nose. When someone coughs or sneezes, other people near them can breathe in those droplets. The virus can also spread when someone touches an object with the virus on it. If that person touches their mouth, face, or eyes the virus can make them sick," says the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.


Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. CLICK HERE for more information on symptoms. Emergency signs include pain and pressure in the chest, confusion and bluish lips or face.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear between 2 and 14 days after contact with an infected person.

VISIT wbay.com/coronavirus for complete local, national and international coverage of the outbreak.

DHS recommends taking these steps to help stop the spread of the virus:

  • Stay at home
  • --Limit your physical interactions with people
  • Keep at least six feet apart from others
  • Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water
  • Make essential trips no more than once a week
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Avoiding touching your face

The virus originated in Wuhan, China. The spread started in December 2019.