'One of the scariest things we'll face': Dr. Rai talks current fight against COVID-19 in Wisconsin

"COVID-19 is actively killing people." That's the message from Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai as we face the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Rai answered a number of your questions during his March 25 visit to Action 2 News This Morning. He covered topics from why this is different from flu to mental health to the safety of pregnant women.

Watch the videos in this story for three informative segments with Dr. Rai.

COVID-19 IS NOT LIKE THE FLU

"There is no comparison. The human body has had defenses against influenza, different strains, for many years. This is a novel virus--a new virus--we've never been exposed to it. It's significantly more contagious. We know it's more lethal than the numbers. When you look at the death rate from the flu, that's at the end of the season you know how many people have died. COVID-19 is actively killing people. We don't know what that end number is going to be. We need to stop looking at this as a flu and a pandemic of a new virus, one of the scariest things we'll ever face in healthcare or in the world," says Dr. Rai.

INFLECTION POINT

"If you look at the curves of where COVID-19 is spreading, and let's take New York because I think that's the center point in America for attention around COVID-19, it has a pretty steep incline of cases going on. Wisconsin's cases started later. Unfortunately, we're following New York's path, almost dot-for-dot on the curve. Instead of really, really increasing the number of cases, we have the opportunity to flatten that. This is the right time--actually the right time would've been two weeks ago--but any time, this is really the right time for us to social isolate, stay at home, to maybe get our Wisconsin curve to break off from the New York curve, and kind of flatten out and let health care take care of itself and take care of you."

SAFER AT HOME ORDER

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has issued a "safer at home" order until April 24. That means all non-essential business and travel is prohibited. CLICK HERE to find out what that means for you.

"We don't have a cure for this disease. People staying home is the cure for this disease," says Dr. Rai. "It's a message that we've been saying now for weeks. I'm really happy the governor stepped up and made that decision."

"At some point you have to pick a number and see where the data is going, the number of cases, where testing is in Wisconsin, what the status of the hospitals are in the state of Wisconsin--are they being overrun? Do they have capacity? So I think taking this in 30-day increments is not a bad idea.

"It's important to remind everybody that we're still limited in who we can test. So the numbers that you're seeing everyday, the positives that the Department of Health Services is putting out, is an under-representation of the cases out there.

"You have to act like you have it, that everything you touch has it on it. And if we keep saying that, hopefully people understand that more than the numbers.

WHY IS THE ORDER STATEWIDE?

"There are people in other counties who say, 'It doesn't affect me.' It does affect you," says Dr. Rai.

"What we're also tracking on top of this is how the hospitals are doing at the same time. How many people of interest--people we think have COVID-19--are getting really sick in our hospitals. That's another gauge we use. We put all of that data together and then say is it time to go out and get rid of the order or not?

"But just the numbers alone, because of the way testing is in the state of Wisconsin, especially because testing's not very available in the rural areas, we really need to act like we have it.

"A lot of those counties, if you look at it and look at what healthcare has for testing in those areas, it's pretty small. So of course those numbers are going to be small to non-existent. You have to act, not pretend. The reality is that it is still there."

"If you were to extrapolate that to Brown County, if we had the amount of testing that say Milwaukee does or New York Does, our cases would be a lot higher."

WHY SO LITTLE TESTING?

"We've gotten a little bit of hope in the coming weeks as far as being able to run our own tests here in Green Bay. But the supply to get the sample, the nasal swab that we keep talking about-- the thing that goes in your nose--those are still in very short supply. We need both of those added together to turn out big-time testing here. Right now, we'll be able to do some small groups of testing in Brown County. I'm hoping that will happen by the end of March.

"The actual testing equipment, the cartridges that go into the machine, those have now been approved by the FDA for hospitals our size in our town to be able to do their own testing. Now they have to get those cartridges or pouches spread around the country. And unfortunately, they're being re-directed to parts of the country where the outbreaks need them. But we need more of them produced.

"We're running out of those swabs--that long stick that looks like a cotton tip, but it's not cotton, that goes inside your nose to get that sample--and the viral medium we put it in. All of that's in short supply."

IMMUNIZATIONS

Dr. Rai says it is safe to bring your children for their immunizations.

"We've actually set this up within Prevea and the other healthcare organizations to be safe for children. There's literally a clean hallway. Immunizations are very necessary for your child. They need to be done on a timely basis."

PRESIDENT TRUMP'S EASTER HOPES

President Donald Trump has said that he would "love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter." CLICK HERE for the full story.

"I think the president has one of the smartest physicians in infectious disease [Dr. Anthony Fauci] advising him. Hopefully he takes that advice and makes a decision based on what medical experts are saying. The governor did listen to medical experts and is taking this in 30-day increments. When the president makes that decision, obviously it's his decision to make. But hopefully it's made with those who actually practice medicine guiding him."

PROTECTING YOURSELF AT WORK AND HOME

"That's something we think about in healthcare every day because we're exposed every day. We have to go home to our families, interact with society on a very limited basis. But we want to be careful. Once again, it comes down to hand hygiene, personal hygiene. Making sure that before you re-enter your home that you scrub down, that you wash your hands. And that you act once you come inside that home that everything you had on has to be clean," says Dr. Rai.

"Those are types of good habits. People who have to be outside, remember that's a pretty limited amount of people I would hope, that would need to be essential for society. That limited amount of people needs to be really careful when they get back home."

TELEMEDICINE

"One visit was from a different part of Wisconsin, but the provider was in this part of Wisconsin, was able to through telemedicine communicate with the patient, arrange a safe testing environment with limiting exposure, which is how it's supposed to happen, and then send that person home for quarantine. Find out that person was positive, be able to communicate with them through telemedicine and make sure that their symptoms aren't getting worse and they're safe at home. And all that happened with the least amount of exposure to society to healthcare and to that person's family. It works really well. And it can work from one part of the state to another part of the state."

DEPRESSION AND MENTAL HEALTH

"I know that the term 'social isolation' is hard for a lot of people, especially those with mental illnesses like depression. And we are worried about the suicide rate. We're not taking our recommendations lightly in any way," says Dr. Rai.

Healthcare providers are offering behavioral care service and training them to do telemedicine.

"If you know somebody who is socially isolated and it could negatively affect them, there are ways to interact with them. There are ways to love them and still be socially isolated, and whether that's video chat, a phone call, driving by and waving through the window. Everybody needs that right now."

CLEANING CLOTHING

"Because this is so widespread, pretty much every part of your house or clothing likely has coronavirus on it. You have to act very careful with it. You have to wash it like you normally would. There's no special instructions there. How often you wash it, that's a personal decision. But you do have to start thinking like everything has it on it. If you have that mindset you'll start washing your hands more and you won't be touching your nose or your face," says Dr. Rai.

SHOULD WE BE SPRAYING DOWN THE STREETS?

"There's no really good research on that, because the minute you spray something and then somebody comes along and touches it, it's once again re-infected. You'd have to have that continuously sprayed, which is not practical. And secondly, we don't know what harm that's going to do versus good, so really without good research around that, the United States has been a little more prudent in that decision to not do that."

WEARING MASKS

"No. 1, we have a shortage of masks. So we have to conserve our personal protective equipment, use it for when we need it in the hospital," says Dr. Rai.

"The mask is not going to completely protect you. Especially if you're not fitted for it, you're not wearing the right kind of mask. And it's really meant for the person who is COVID-19-positive, to make sure they're not spreading it anymore.

PROTECTING PREGNANT WOMEN

"If you are pregnant, understand from a healthcare prospective we've been thinking about you and how to best protect you and your unborn baby, because we want that to go extremely well for you. So from the hospital situation, isolating that area, making sure that the delivery spaces are as safe as possible for the pregnant women to plan in case they're COVID-positive," says Dr. Rai.

"We've done all of that. The most important thing you can do at home is make sure you're checking in with your physician, you can do that virtually. You can do that by phone, and you're practicing really good hand hygiene. And that you're socially isolating, and I know that's very tough right now. You know towards the end of pregnancies people have a baby shower. Have it virtually. Stay at home. Protect you and your unborn baby. And we'll take it from there when you're ready to deliver."

CLICK HERE to track the outbreak in Wisconsin.

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. People of all ages can get sick.

"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 DHS.

CLICK HERE for Wisconsin's guide to COVID-19.

Here's how you can prevent the spread (INFORMATION FROM DHS):

* Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

* Stay at home as much as possible. Cancel events and avoid groups, gatherings, play dates, and nonessential appointments.

* Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.

* Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

* Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.

* Stay at least six feet away from other people.

* Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles).

CLICK HERE for a guide on how to properly disinfect your surfaces.