Key takeaways from Friday’s briefing:
- 7 new deaths, 927 total
- RI confirms first case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children
- Immunizations down more than 50%
- Hospitalizations fall below 100
- Phase 3 decision, new travel restrictions Monday
- Access to housing remains a problem
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Health Department on Friday announced seven more people have died after contracting COVID-19, as the number of people currently hospitalized with the disease fell below 100 for the first time since March.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott also confirmed the state’s first case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, an emerging illness found in some children after they contract COVID-19.
The school-age Rhode Island girl with the illness — which can create inflammation in the heart, lungs, eyes and gastrointestinal system — is currently in the hospital but not in intensive care. The department declined to share further information about the patient.
Alexander-Scott underscored that the disease is not contagious, and is relatively rare in Rhode Island largely because the number of positive COVID-19 cases found in children has remained low.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said about the case. “We’re seeing it in other states.”
Alexander-Scott said it reinforces the need among parents to help their children prevent against COVID-19 by washing their hands, wearing masks and following social-distancing guidelines.
The newly reported deaths bring the coronavirus death toll in Rhode Island to 927. The Health Department also reported 91 people are currently in the hospital, marking the first time the number has totaled fewer than 100 since March 31, records show.
Two more people were admitted to the hospital, as 12 were discharged, according to state data. Among the people in the hospital, 16 were in intensive care, including 15 on ventilators.
In addition to the declining hospitalizations, the state continues to report a low rate of positive cases. Twenty-five out of 2,253 tests came back positive Thursday, resulting in a daily positivity rate of 1.1%.
That’s the lowest rate ever recorded since WPRI 12 started tracking the metric after the state expanded testing to anyone with symptoms on April 2.
The relatively low numbers are a welcome sign in Rhode Island, as other states that have reopened such as Florida continue to grapple with new outbreaks of the disease.
“What’s happening in Rhode Island is very different from what’s happening in other states,” Raimondo said.
“It could change in a week if we stop following the rules,” she added. “Don’t be lulled into a sense of complacency.”
The governor said she’s pleased about where the state currently stands with COVID-19, but she expressed concern about the lack of immunizations and health check-ups among children happening across the state.
People have been wary about visiting pediatricians — along with other health facilities — during the pandemic. As a result, immunizations of children between the ages of two and seven years old fell more than 50% compared to the prior year, according to Raimondo.
The lack of preventative care could result in widespread sickness in the fall and winter, especially when children return to school and flu season starts up again, she said.
“We cannot accept this,” Raimondo said. “It’s going to manifest itself into big problems in the winter if we don’t get these kids checked and immunized.”
State officials and pediatricians are going to be working throughout the summer to boost immunizations, Raimondo said. The governor implored parents to call their doctors, saying that while she understands there are concerns about visiting health facilities, taking no action could be more dangerous.
“At this point, the bigger risk is you not taking your children to get immunized,” Raimondo said.
In an update to some ongoing initiatives launched during the pandemic, Raimondo said Rhode Islanders have helped raise $122,000 for the “weR1” relief fund set up to help people without access to federal unemployment benefits, including undocumented immigrants.
Raimondo called on people to keep giving — if they have the means — saying she’d like to see the fund get up to $150,000 by the end of the month. The fund receives no taxpayer money.
“Many people right now in Rhode Island [without] access to federal aid, who are struggling dollar by dollar to put food on their [table],” Raimondo said.
The governor also provided an update to a housing initiative she launched earlier this month, which offers landlords $2,000 signing bonuses if they rent out homes to families with housing vouchers. As of Friday, landlords have pledged 61 units — still short of the governor’s goal of 100 units by July 1.
But the governor said there’s still more time to meet the goal, and she encouraged landlords to participate — pointing out the vouchers represent a stable source of income. Asked why she thought more landlords haven’t jumped at the incentive, Raimondo said she didn’t have a good answer.
“There’s a stigma associated with the vouchers,” Raimondo said, adding she’s supporting legislation that would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against prospective renters based on the source of their income.
“That’s why we’re trying to provide an economic incentive to give folks a push to get them to think differently,” she added.
The state has likewise launched a rental-assistance program for renters struggling to make ends meet, although applicants have reported widespread problems with the opaque and onerous application process.
A Target 12 report last week showed that less than 1% of the $6.5 million allocated for the program first announced on May 2 had been disbursed to renters. The governor’s office has since pledged it will pay out at least $200,000 by July.
The issue of housing security is set to become a big issue next month, as pandemic-related eviction proceedings are set to resume — along with the end of the extra $600 a month for unemployment benefit recipients provided by the federal CARES Act.
R.I. Department of Administrator Director Brett Smiley also said an ongoing program that places people experiencing homelessness in a hotel in Warwick is set to end next week.
The program was designed to reduce overcrowding in homeless shelters, as COVID-19 can spread quickly in congregate living areas.
“The solution is not future hotel stays, but rather permanent affordable housing,” Smiley said.
But it wasn’t immediately clear whether those currently living in the hotel would be expected to return to shelters.
Raimondo expects to make an announcement Monday about the state moving into Phase 3 of her reopening plan, which could begin as early as Tuesday. The next phase of reopening could include widespread relaxing of social distancing mandates and the reopening of some businesses that have remained shuttered.
The governor said she’s going to meet with health experts over the weekend to discuss some outstanding questions, including what to do about people traveling into the state for tourism, and how to prevent rapid spread of the disease as people gather in larger groups.
“The thing we must focus on for Phase 3 is very large events because we are learning from the difficult experience of other states that large events are obviously a very large problem,” Raimondo said.