RI ‘in a terrible spot,’ Raimondo warns; new cases top 900 for second day, hospitals under strain

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from this week’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • Raimondo paints grim picture as cases soar
  • Cranston field hospital readied as beds fill up
  • Stay-at-home order possible on Thanksgiving
  • Second lockdown is on the table
  • New website to get test results in RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo warned Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic is rapidly worsening in Rhode Island, raising the possibility of another full-scale lockdown and saying she has ordered preparations to begin for the opening of a field hospital.

“We are in a terrible spot,” Raimondo said during her weekly coronavirus briefing, where she was joined by local emergency room doctors in an effort to drive home the severity of the situation. “For those folks out there who think it’s OK not to follow the rules, who thought it was OK to have Halloween parties, you need to know that that’s costing lives.”

“These next few months are going to be the toughest of the virus,” she added, signaling that she will announce “very strict” rules next week for celebration of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, potentially including a stay-at-home order.

(Story continues below video.)

Raimondo spoke as the R.I. Department of Health announced yet another single-day record for new infections, with 936 tests coming back positive on Wednesday alone. However, the daily positivity rate declined from 6.7% Tuesday to 4.7% Wednesday thanks to higher total testing.

The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized with COVID-19 has been climbing steadily over the last several weeks and is now at 232 patients, an increase of 12 from a day earlier and the highest total since late May.

Ticking off those statistics, Raimondo told residents, “You should be alarmed.”

“That’s where we’re headed, folks – total lockdown – if we don’t get more serious and follow the rules,” she said.

Only 16% of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients are currently free in Rhode Island’s hospitals, and they are on pace to be filled in about a week based on the state’s current trajectory, according to the governor. Roughly 600 additional beds can be added if hospitals implement surge plans, but another problem is the increased exhaustion of medical personnel.

“Despite the vast health care resources in our state, this pandemic has pressed us to the brink,” Dr. Laura Forman, chief of emergency medicine at Kent Hospital in Warwick, said at the briefing. She compared the situation to what she’d seen in foreign refugee camps and battlefields.

Forman painted a bleak picture of the situation inside the hospitals, as coronavirus patients say goodbye to their loved ones on FaceTime and die alone, comforted only by their physicians.

For those who remain skeptical about the virus, Forman said, “I wish that they could feel what it’s like to have to call a family member on their own personal cellphone and say, ‘I think your mom only has a couple more minutes left. Do you want to see her before she dies?’ and hold the cellphone up in the room.”

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The temporary field hospital that has been set up inside the old Citizens Bank building on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston could be activated within “days to weeks,” said Forman, who will be that facility’s medical director. The Department of Health has been directed to start drills there to prepare for its activation.

Nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities are being asked to take patients who can be discharged in order to make room for COVID-19 patients inside the hospitals. Retired doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are being asked to sign up to help at skillsforri.com.

Alluding to how exhausted many people are from dealing with coronavirus for most of 2020, Forman said, “Pandemic fatigue is real, but so is everything else I’ve told you today.”

Raimondo acknowledged state officials are facing increased resistance to coronavirus rules, including individuals ignoring orders to quarantine after exposure and a much-discussed issue of people continuing to gather in small groups without wearing masks.

The governor did not specify how soon she could imagine imposing new restrictions, let alone a lockdown, but indicated she feels her options are dwindling.

“I don’t think [going back to] Phase 2 would help,” she said. “It’s not enough. … I worry we’re getting close to some pretty extreme measures.”

Yet she continued to push back at suggestions that all schools should return to remote learning, insisting that there was no evidence nationally or globally that schools are a source of spread and expressing concern about the effects such a move would have on children.

The Department of Health reported Thursday that there were between 245 and 253 new cases last week among in-person students and staff, bringing the cumulative total to more than 1,000. There were 115 to 119 cases among virtual students and an additional five to nine among virtual staff.

The state has launched a new centralized website for Rhode Islanders to receive test results, no matter where or how they got the test. Previously, test results were obtained through a variety of methods including by phone, on the website of the private lab that ran the test, or on the website of the test provider. Now all results can be obtained at portal.ri.gov/results.

With the news on Monday that Pfizer’s vaccine candidate was strongly effective in clinical trials, Raimondo expressed optimism that doses could be available for high-risk Rhode Islanders before the end of the year. The state plans to distribute it in phases, with nursing homes and first responders in Phase 1; teachers, school staff and child care providers in Phase 2; and young people in Phase 3.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Anita Baffoni and Steph Machado contributed to this report.

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