12 new deaths, hospitalizations fall again; Raimondo urges safety at protests

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Tuesday’s briefing:

  • 12 new deaths, 732 total
  • Hospitalizations fall to 188 people
  • Raimondo addresses violent unrest in Providence
  • Health officials monitoring for possible resurgence of positive cases
  • Nursing home deaths compared to neighboring states

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 12 people have died with COVID-19 in Rhode Island, as Gov. Gina Raimondo suddenly finds herself grappling with civic unrest in addition to a public health crisis.

The governor’s daily COVID-19 news conference was dominated by questions related to a nighttime protest that turned violent in Providence, as police arrested more than 60 people after a series of break-ins, vandalism and torching of a police car.

While the unrest comes in the wake of protests held across the country since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police, Raimondo said repeatedly she considered what happened in Providence over the night to be different than the peaceful protests seen during the weekend.

“What happened last night in Providence was not a protest,” Raimondo said during her briefing, noting that the people were organized and had clear intentions to wreak havoc on the city.

The group planned to “blow up” the Providence Place mall and “torch” the State House, she added.

After discussing the Providence violence at a hastily called morning news conference, the governor tried to focus her second press availability of the day on the public health crisis, pointing to some positive trends that have emerged recently.

The newly reported deaths bring the death toll to 732 people in Rhode Island, but hospitalizations continued to decline, totaling 188 people compared to 196 reported Monday, according to the R.I. Department of Health.

The state reported 14 COVID patients had been newly admitted to the hospital compared to 18 new discharges. Four of the newly reported deaths happened at the hospital, according to the Health Department.

Among those in the hospital, 48 people were in intensive care, with 31 people on ventilators.

And while another 101 people tested positive for the disease, bringing the cumulative total to more than 15,000 since March 1, Raimondo noted that the rate of positive tests has been below 5% for days. More than 2,500 people tested negative for the disease yesterday, meaning the rate of positive tests totaled 3.9%.

“That’s excellent,” she said. “I hope it stays that way.”

Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan started Monday, which relaxed a series of social distancing mandates that have been in place for weeks, including the tripling of gathering sizes to 15 people per group.

Reopening RI: What’s new for Phase 2?

How those decisions will impact spread of the disease may not be measurable for another two weeks, which is now complicated by the fact that thousands of people gathered in peaceful protest over the weekend and hundreds participated in the violent unrest beginning Monday night.

While dozens of people remained in the streets chanting for justice and racial equity Monday, many others broke into the Providence Place mall, smashed storefronts downtown and set fire to a police car early Tuesday morning.

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said that if public health officials see a resurgence in cases and hospitalizations in a two weeks, it will be challenging to pinpoint the exact cause because of the timing.

“It will be challenging to tell — if we were to have an increase of cases — if it was just because of the protest, or because of the reopening,” Alexander-Scott said.

When asked whether the state is expecting a resurgence in cases in the coming weeks, Alexander-Scott said there’s no way to know for sure, but public health officials are preparing regardless.

“We want to be ready,” she said. “We definitely hope there isn’t a resurgence, but need to be vigilant.”

Raimondo echoed the sentiment, adding that the state will try to come up with new ways to provide greater public health support if more protests happen in the coming days and weeks.

“We are now assessing what — if anything — we might do to make the appropriate protests safer,” Raimondo said, suggesting passing out masks or figuring out new ways to do contact-tracing — which is typically more difficult when an individual comes into contact with a large group of people.

“If you want to attend a peaceful protest, wear a mask, don’t go if you’re sick, and turn on your location diary and keep you contact tracing notebook,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo dedicated part of the news conference to discuss nursing homes, as residents currently make up 76% of all COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island. The number is tragically high, she said, but she underscored that it’s not as bad relative to Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“Although we are far from perfect, we are doing as well as — if not better — than certainly our neighboring states,” Raimondo said.

While nursing home deaths make up a smaller percentage of overall deaths in Connecticut and Massachusetts — 57% and 62%, respectively — fewer nursing home residents per capita are dying in Rhode Island than the other two states, according to data provided by the state.

“We want to do better, but I can tell you with certainty that we’re approaching this doing everything we can,” Raimondo said. “The deaths would have been much, much more if we hadn’t done all that we’ve done.”

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