15 new deaths Thursday; more people hospitalized than originally reported

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health announced Thursday that 15 more Rhode Islanders have died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 266.

The Health Department also revealed an updated reporting system that shows there are now 339 people in Rhode Island’s hospitals with the virus. That’s a significant increase from the 269 people reported Wednesday.

“What we’ve done is now built a computerized, automated system that will serve us throughout the duration of the pandemic,” said Health Department Medical Director Dr. James McDonald during a conference call with reporters.

“We’re finding patients who happen to have COVID-19 virus, maybe they are asymptomatic — as opposed to people who are admitted because of that,” he added, explaining the jump in hospitalizations.

The Health Department updated its historical data as well, showing hospitalizations have been steadily increasing during the past week, when Gov. Gina Raimondo had been touting a plateau.

McDonald said the people who tested positive for the disease had been captured in daily testing numbers, but were not showing up in the hospital data because the people had been admitted for reasons other than COVID-19.

Raimondo did not answer questions from reporters Thursday, instead holding a virtual question-and-answer event with Rhode Island students.

McDonald said the new hospitalization numbers don’t change how state leaders are currently thinking about the outbreak, noting stabilization in hospital’s intensive care units.

Of those reported to be in the hospital Thursday, 85 were in the intensive care unit and 54 were on a ventilator.

Asked about when the governor learned about the upward revision to hospitalizations, Raimondo spokesperson Josh Block said she and her advisers “have been kept in the loop on this work, and she is pleased that we’ve been able to work with hospitals on a more systemic approach to reporting.” He indicated the effort has been underway for several weeks.

“As the governor has said, while it’s her hope that we will be able to enter phase 1 of reopening on May 9, that’s not a forgone conclusion,” Block said. “Hospitalizations are one of the important data points she’s tracking, and she’ll continue looking at all the case data and the other metrics concerning testing capacity, contact tracing, supports for at-risk communities, etc. as she considers when it’s safe to reopen.”

There were 374 new positive cases reported Thursday, for a new cumulative total of 8,621.

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