PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Newly released data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows the number of new COVID-19 cases reported across the world has been on the decline since late March, decreasing nearly 25% last week.
The WHO said that while cases are down in every region, they’ve only dropped by about 2% in the Americas.
The agency said “these trends should be interpreted with caution as several countries are progressively changing their COVID-19 testing strategies, resulting in lower overall numbers of tests performed and consequently lower numbers of cases detected.”
For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently started measuring the risk level of COVID-19 in a community by the number of new cases, new hospital admissions and hospital capacity, instead of case rates alone.
Data reported by the R.I. Department of Health on Thursday showed 336 new positive cases, with an increase in the community transmission rate compared to the previous day. No new deaths were reported, and COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped to 63.
On Wednesday, Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told 12 News the agency has stopped reporting percent positive data since more testing is being done at home and not being reported to the state.
“As part of Rhode Island’s shift toward an endemic response to COVID-19, much more testing is happening in traditional health care settings, and at-home tests have become the option of choice for many Rhode Islanders,” he explained. “Because these tests do not all get reported to the state, our percent positive data is now much harder to interpret.”
The changes to testing and data reporting come as masks are now largely optional in many settings.
Dr. Leonard Mermel, Lifespan’s director of epidemiology and infection prevention, said even when others aren’t, wearing a mask yourself is better than nothing.
“There’s various levels of protection from a surgical mask compared to, let’s just say, an N95 respirator, so there’s a variability there, but with nobody masking, and with prolonged indoor exposure, those are the risk factors for transmission of COVID,” Mermel told 12 News.
Right now, all but one county in Rhode Island — Providence County — are considered “medium risk” for COVID-19. The risk levels will be updated again on Friday.
Immunocompromised individuals and others at high risk are recommended by the CDC to talk to their doctor about wearing a mask and other precautions.
Mermel said wearing a mask has two purposes, the first being what’s called “source control.”
“So, somebody’s infected, knowingly or unknowingly — and there’s a lot of transmission in people who are asymptomatic — the mask is going to reduce the amount of viral particles shed into the air,” Mermel said.
“That’s very, very important for infection spread through our respiratory tract, breathing, and talking, sneezing, et cetera,” he added.
If you’re the one wearing a mask, it will also reduce the amount of viral particles you’re breathing in, according to Mermel.
“When you’re out in public, you really don’t know who may be at greatest risk around you,” he said. “And that’s why, again, want to reduce risk to ourselves and those around us.”