McKee expected to announce plan to address COVID-19 surge; 2,392 new cases since Friday


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The first case of COVID-19 linked to the omicron variant was detected in Rhode Island over the weekend, but Gov. Dan McKee said it’s not time to panic.

The person in their 20s lives in Providence County and recently returned from a trip to New York, according to the R.I. Department of Health. The person had completed the primary vaccination series but had no record of a booster shot.

“We fully expected that omicron would eventually be detected in Rhode Island as it has been in our neighboring states,” McKee said. “I want to be clear: Rhode Island is prepared. This is not cause for panic.”

Over the weekend, McKee shared that he’ll be announcing a plan this week to address the rising number of positive cases and relieve pressure on the state’s hospital system, while keeping schools open for in-person learning and preventing economic disruptions to small businesses.

The governor said he’s remaining focused on vaccinations, testing, masking and staffing capacity.

“We know the best way to protect ourselves from delta, omicron or any other variant is to get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested, and consider wearing a mask in crowded public places,” McKee said. “I want to thank the staff at our State Health Lab who have been working diligently to sequence more test results than ever before. Together, we can keep each other safe and healthy throughout the holiday season.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, who leads Brown University’s school of public health, said it’s safe to assume the omicron variant is in every state at this point. He noted that key questions about its rate of spread and the damage it can cause remain unanswered, but getting a booster shot will likely help in containing the new variant.

Those who are vaccinated or recently recovered from infection will have protection from severe illness, Jha said, while breakthrough cases will be common but considered mild.

Last week, McKee extended his executive order requiring that masks be worn in schools through the beginning of 2022, but said he is not ready to reinstate a statewide indoor mask mandate.

It’s still a possibility, however, since McKee said “everything is on the table” when it comes to mitigating the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations.

On Monday, the Health Department reported 2,392 new positive cases since data was last released on Friday and added 41 cases to the daily totals prior to that.

Health officials also disclosed 12 more COVID-19-related deaths, which brought the death toll to 2,969.

Hospitalizations increased to 245, with 37 patients in the intensive care unit and 24 on ventilators. But, to put things into perspective, there were twice as many hospitalizations in Rhode Island at this time last year, before the vaccine was widely available.

The Health Department’s data shows 97% of adults (18+) in Rhode Island are at least partially vaccinated to date, while 76% of the state’s entire population is considered fully vaccinated.

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