PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Health have scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon to lay out a “comprehensive set of actions” to address the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and alleviate pressure on the state’s hospital system.
12 News will broadcast 1:30 p.m. event live on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com.
The plans, according to a news release from McKee’s office, aim to keep schools open for in-person learning and prevent economic disruptions to small businesses.
The announcement follows multiple calls for the governor to reinstate the indoor mask mandate, which he has opted against so far.
Rhode Island has had high transmission of COVID-19 since August, but infection levels have boomed in the past few weeks as people spend more time indoors due to the weather and holiday gatherings.
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On Tuesday, the Health Department reported 1,173 new infections and a 7% daily positivity rate, along with six more COVID-19-related deaths.
Hospitalizations increased to 266, with 41 patients in the intensive care unit and 24 on ventilators, the data shows.
On Dec. 12, 2020 — a couple of days before the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered — there were 473 hospitalizations in Rhode Island, with 55 patients in the ICU and 32 on ventilators.
The Health Department also updated its weekly data on Tuesday, which revealed increases in key metrics. New hospital admissions rose from 171 last week to 245 this week, while the weekly positivity rate ticked up to 5.2% and the rate of community transmission climbed to 649 new cases per 100,000 people over the previous seven days.
Speaking with 12 News on Tuesday, RIDOH Medical Director Dr. James McDonald says testing for COVID-19 is “still in high demand.”
“We’re doing now about 20,000 tests a day, which is really more than we’ve ever done during the pandemic, which is great that we’re doing that much testing,” McDonald said.
McDonald said tests from nursing homes and the K-12 population are being prioritized. The Health Department recently noted an increase in cases within congregate living facilities.
“We’re seeing what used to be a day or two is taking basically three or four days. So, we obviously want to get that back to that day one or two number. That’s what we’re working on right now,” he added.
McDonald also reflected on one year passing since the first COVID-19 vaccines being administered, noting how there was a short supply and sense of nervousness of the vaccines working.
“Now we’re 1.2 million doses later, I think that’s a good thing,” McDonald said.
The medical director says what he is worried about, however, is the capacity in Rhode Island’s hospitals.
“It was actually December 15th last year, was our peak day we had 516 people in the hospital with COVID,” McDonald explained. “Right now, we’re about half that number, and I think we need to look at that as individuals, like, ‘Wow, Lifespan had a press conference last week.’ That’s unusual for a hospital system to say, ‘Look, we need help.'”
“For a hospital system to say, ‘Look, everyone needs to wear a mask when they’re indoors,’ that’s a big statement. For a hospital system to say, ‘Gosh, we’re having staffing challenges and we have shortages here, we need people to stay well,’ that’s a big deal,” McDonald explained. “And I think that’s one of those things where right now, everybody who lives in this state has to look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do to be part of the actual solution here?'”
Members of the Rhode Island Medical Society held a teleconference on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 surge and how the state and individuals can protect their own health, as well as the health of those around them.
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The group’s president, Dr. Elizabeth Lange, noted that while Rhode Island is a nationwide leader in terms of vaccination rates (97.1% of adults at least partially vaccinated and 76.2% of the state’s entire population fully vaccinated), the delta and omicron variants have “changed the rules of the pandemic.”
Lange said data compiled from Johns Hopkins University showed Rhode Island has had a 189% increase in new COVID-19 cases in the past week alone, compared to a roughly 70% increase in the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving.
“In particular, the predominant delta variant is more aggressive and causes more serious illness,” Lange explained. “The delta and omicron variants have made this pandemic a three-dose vaccine event, as immunity from the two-doses wanes after six months.”
According to Lange, about 30% of eligible Rhode Islanders have received their booster shot to date.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends COVID-19 vaccine booster doses for everyone ages 16 or older. (Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized and recommended for 16- and 17-year-olds.)
People who are age 16 or older and need a booster dose can get the Pfizer vaccine at least six months after their primary vaccination series, while people 18 and older who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster shot two months after their initial dose.
Over the weekend, the omicron variant was detected in Rhode Island for the first time through genomic sequencing surveillance. State officials said the individual is in their 20s and completed the primary vaccination series, but had no record of a booster dose. The Providence County resident recently returned from a trip to New York.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Health Department, said the person was “symptomatic, but not hospitalized.”
Doctors in Tuesday’s news conference said there are several things people can do now to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- Get vaccinated, or a booster dose when eligible
- Wear a mask indoors, or in crowded places outdoors
- Get tested for the virus often
- Stay home if sick, especially if not vaccinated
Dr. Catherine Cummings urged people to do the right thing and take necessary mitigation steps to care for others and protect them.
“Getting sick this time around, or giving it to someone else and bringing them into the emergency department over the holidays, when you didn’t do everything you could have possibly done … that’s something that will weigh on you the rest of your life,” Cummings said.