RI COVID-19 cases top 900 for first time since January; state doc urges masks


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For the second year in a row, Rhode Island is seeing a spike in new COVID-19 cases as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, as well as gather for the holidays.

While the 903 new cases reported Thursday are the most in a single day since Jan. 21, the situation overall is still better than this time last year.

On Dec. 1, 2020, average daily infections totaled 1,008 compared to 613 on the same day this year.

Four more Rhode Islanders have died after contracting COVID-19, the Health Department disclosed Thursday, bringing the death toll to 2,939.

Hospitalizations have also been climbing as of late, with 170 patients in the state’s hospital system as of Thursday. Of those patients, 21 are in the intensive care unit and 13 are on ventilators, according to health officials.

But, as with the new cases, the situation isn’t as severe as last year. The current seven-day average of new hospitalizations was 160 on Nov. 30, compared to 430 on that date last year. (Hospitalization data has a two-day lag.)

At that time last year, the COVID-19 vaccine was still months away from being widely available to Rhode Islanders.

As the daily case counts grow along with concerns about the new omicron variant, public health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated, saying it’s still the best defense against severe illness.

While the vaccine’s effectiveness against the omicron is not yet clear, it’s known to protect against the delta variant, which health officials say is still fueling nearly all new infections both locally and nationwide.

People who are 18 and older are now eligible to get a booster dose, which the Health Department’s medical director encouraged during an interview with 12 News at 4 on Thursday.

“As we get to this time of year, we’re going inside, we’re going to be around more people,” Dr. James McDonald said. “It spreads person to person my friends, so this is where we need to be careful to make sure we protect ourselves, and that’s where the booster vaccine’s really our best protection.”

In the above video, Dr. McDonald explains what’s different about the omicron variant.

McDonald said that while getting vaccinated is crucial, he’s also urging people to start wearing masks again in public to help stop the spread of the virus.

“It’s time to bring those masks back out, especially if you’re out there doing stuff,” he said. “Bring your mask. I think it’ll bring you a long way and do what we can. We’ve got to worry about delta right now because delta is our threat.”

With the holidays approaching, McDonald reiterated the importance of staying home if your sick, and also recommended getting tested before attending a gathering.

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