11 more dead, 203 new cases in RI; Raimondo aims to start Phase 2 in June

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from today’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • 11 more deaths; 479 total
  • 4 new metrics show guidance for reopening
  • Rate of new infections estimated below 1
  • Abbott ID Now test accuracy questioned
  • Raimondo responds to Narragansett Town Council

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 11 people have died after contracting COVID-19 in Rhode Island, as Gov. Gina Raimondo on Friday offered a window into how she will measure whether it’s safe enough for the state to move into the next phase of her plan to reopen the economy.

The governor unveiled four metrics she said public health officials are monitoring during Phase 1 of the reopening plan, which started May 9, including hospital capacity, new hospitalizations, how quickly the disease is spreading and the doubling rate of hospitalizations.

The metrics together will help determine whether the reopening decisions are adversely affecting the health of Rhode Islanders and the state’s overall health care system, Raimondo said.

“We decided the four metrics taken together — we think — paint an accurate picture … of whether [COVID-19] continues to decline, plateau or increase,” Raimondo said during her daily briefing.

Raimondo said the four metrics would be monitored over roughly one-month periods, meaning Phase 2 isn’t likely to start until the beginning of June in Rhode Island. (Raimondo had previously indicated that the phases could come in two-week periods, but Friday she said that was a mistake.)

The new announcement about Phase 2 of the reopening came at the same time the R.I. Department of Health announced the 11 additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 479 in Rhode Island.

The Health Department also reported 203 more people have tested positive for the disease, bringing the total to 12,219 since March 1. More than 3,000 people also tested negative for the disease over the last day, for a daily positive rate of about 6%.

Indicator 1

The number of people currently hospitalized increased slightly to total 272, representing a key metric public health officials will be watching during the reopening.

Currently, about 30% of the state’s hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, according to Raimondo, who said keeping that number below 70% will be one of the determining factors when considering a move into Phase 2 of the reopening plan. If it moves above 85%, she said she will need to consider reversing course.

Raimondo said the state is also watching capacity in intensive care units, as COVID-19 patients are taking up about 20% of total ICU beds. There are currently 63 people in intensive care units, including 41 people on ventilators, according to the state.

“We want to be able to guarantee people have a hospital bed at any time,” Raimondo said.

Indicator 2

Likewise, public health officials will monitor daily hospital admissions, which need to stay “consistently” below 30 per day for Raimondo to consider it safe enough to move into the next phase. While it’s not entirely clear what “consistently” means, the governor said they’re watching three- and seven-day averages.

If health officials start to see 50 or more new COVID-19 admissions each day, Raimondo said she’d consider moving backward in the reopening plan.

The state so far has only reported one day when hospital admissions exceeded 50 people, as the number has trended downward in recent weeks.

“If we’re seeing a spike in new hospitalizations, that’s a sign that something’s happening,” Raimondo said.

Indicator 3

The third indicator Raimondo said health officials will monitor is the rate at which the disease is spreading from one infected person to another, a metric known as R0, pronounced “R-naught.

Currently, the governor said Rhode Island’s R0 is less than one, which is good news because it means that not everyone who’s infected is giving the disease to someone else. Any R0 greater than 1 means each infected person on average is giving the disease to at least one other person.

“The simplest way to think about it is: how many people does one infected person infect?” Raimondo explained.

If the R0 value remains below 1.1 in Rhode Island, Raimondo said she will feel comfortable moving into the next phase of reopening. A rate greater than 1.3 will give public health officials reason to consider moving back a phase, she added.

The rate of spread, Raimondo added, is something that will remain low if Rhode Islanders continue to wash their hands, social distance and wear masks.

“The R value … is absolutely in our control,” Raimondo said. “If we get out there and start to get lazy, or lax, then we’ll start to get into trouble.”

Indicator 4

The final metric under review is how quickly hospitalizations double, according to Raimondo.

For a couple weeks, hospitalizations have either declined or plateaued, which encouraged the governor’s decision to move into Phase 1 of reopening last weekend.

If people start getting sick quickly, and the number starts doubling in fewer than 20 days, however, Raimondo said they would consider moving back a phase.

Any doubling that happens in a time frame greater than 20 days would not necessarily be a reason for concern, Raimondo added, saying she fully expects hospitalizations to start growing again now that the stay-at-home order has expired.

“We’re going to get back to work, you’re going to see hospitalizations go up, but as long as it takes more than a month to see a doubling of hospitalizations we’ll feel confident,” Raimondo said.

Currently, the guidance surrounding the four metrics would remain the same between Phase 1 and Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the reopening plan.

In other news, Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott addressed concerns swirling around the accuracy of the Abbott ID Now testing system, which has been used for about 27% of of the roughly 105,000 COVID-19 tests administered so far in Rhode Island since the crisis began.

The tests have been an integral part of the state’s overall testing strategy, as CVS Health has used them at the rapid-testing site in the Twin River Casino parking lot in Lincoln. Late Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that the testing systems might not always produce accurate results.

The warning came in the wake of a New York University study that showed the tests were returning false negatives.

Alexander-Scott largely downplayed the concerns, saying the state is aware of them and has a team reviewing the studies coming out about the systems. But she said the state health lab validated the test’s accuracy before deploying them, and thousands of people have received positive results — which has helped spur contact tracing, isolation and quarantining.

“Abbott tests have been very useful for us in Rhode Island,” Alexander-Scott said.

She also pointed out that the tests have been returning a rate of positive test results at about the same as the statewide average. As of Thursday, the Health Department reported the Abbott tests so far had produced 3,188 positive results out of 28,231 tests administered, representing a positive rate of about 11.3%. compared to the statewide total of about 11.6%.

With that said, Alexander-Scott urged people to continue to follow the guidance of staying at home if they’re sick — even if they get tested and the results come back negative for COVID-19.

“It is extremely important,” she said.

The news conference Friday marked the governor’s final regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefing for this week, as Raimondo and the health director have moved to a new Monday-through-Friday schedule with no weekend briefings as part of Phase 1.

Raimondo each day has issued various guidance about what is and isn’t allowed during the upcoming months, which she acknowledged is frustrating people who are trying to make summer plans and determine how much COVID-19 will change their daily lives in the future.

“Listen, I get that people are frustrated, I really do,” Raimondo said. “No one wants to have my job right now.”

Addressing questions about high school graduation ceremonies, Raimondo continued to say virtual events are the safest course, though she suggested small in-person gatherings must be possible later in the summer. Pressed by reporters, the governor said she would talk to R.I. Department of Education officials about the guidance they’ve been providing.

To that end, the Narragansett Town Council is set to vote Monday on a resolution that would direct local police not to enforce any of the governor’s coronavirus executive orders.

In the resolution, Town Council President Matthew Mannix wrote that the town recognizes the threat of the disease, but “also recognizes that the restrictions imposed by many of these Coronavirus-related executive orders have imposed substantial harm to the emotional, spiritual and financial well-being of its residents.”

When asked about the resolution on Friday, Raimondo called it a “huge mistake.”

“That is not based in fact, science, good analysis and it’s so selfish to all the people of Rhode Island who have worked so hard for so long, putting their lives on hold,” Raimondo said. “That is a reckless thing to do.”

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