As we approach one year since COVID-19 arrived in Rhode Island, 12 News is bringing you special reports all this week at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. They’re stories of heartache, heroes and hope.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For a year, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott has been at the forefront of the state’s coronavirus response. The Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health has been grilled by reporters weekly at the state’s coronavirus press briefings and has made sweeping public health decisions.
Her love for medicine began at a young age. Her mother became a nurse despite being told her skin color would prohibit that. Alexander-Scott’s father always told people his daughter would become a doctor. He died when she was just 11, and she didn’t find out about her father’s prophecy until she was already in medical school.
As a physician, Alexander-Scott said she was drawn to public health when the last pandemic gripped the country. It was 2009 and she was already working at the health department as a medical consultant, learning how to shape the state’s response to a public health crisis. February of 2020 reminded her of those days.
“You certainly hope that you don’t have too many pandemics in your career,” she told 12 News. “And you can never imagine what each additional pandemic is going to be like.”
When it became clear that a new virus was making its way across the globe to the U.S., Alexander-Scott said it wasn’t a total surprise.
“But it was also something that no one could have imagined,” she said.
By March of 2020, Alexander-Scott was the public voice of public health in Rhode Island, delivering daily updates alongside Governor Gina Raimondo. The briefings often tasked Alexander-Scott with delivering heartbreaking news on the rising death toll, closures of businesses and mandates that the sick and elderly be isolated from visitors.
“Some of the longer days may have been times when people were rightfully concerned or… even angry about what they were experiencing and I had to acknowledge that,” she said.
Alexander-Scott said on her hardest days, she takes comfort in the dedication of her team, expressions of gratitude from the public, and her own family — including her 20-month-old son.
“[He] can melt away any pandemic-related concerns that are going on in the blink of an eye, or just with a smile or a kiss,” she said.
One year into the pandemic, more than 2,300 Rhode Islanders have lose their lives. Alexander-Scott said she’s driven daily by the motivation to keep that number from climbing, and buoyed by the blessings in her own life.
“Having lost my father at a young age already taught me to have a sense of appreciation just for what you have and for life and not taking things for granted,” she said. “So, I already had an element of that and certainly the pandemic really strengthened that understanding.”
“Even on the toughest days I still am blessed and thankful to have a family, to have loved ones, to have a job, to be able to fulfill a purpose,” she continued. “Looking at those blessings are so critical during times like this.”
Alexander-Scott said she doesn’t look back on 2020 with regrets, but said she has learned many lessons.
As for the future, the Senate confirmed her to another five-year term last year, and incoming Gov. Dan McKee has said he plans to keep her in charge of the state’s coronavirus response.
This story has been updated for clarity.