Key takeaways from Wednesday’s briefing:
- Rhode Island seeing increases in new COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions
- State leaders attribute that to smaller social gatherings with no mask-wearing, distancing
- Gov. Raimondo plans to announce new regulations at 1 p.m. Thursday
- Providence, Central Falls schools to remain in hybrid model through end of semester
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo’s coronavirus update on Wednesday was the first of two this week with Rhode Island seeing increases in key COVID-19 metrics like new cases and hospital admissions.
Raimondo said that since the numbers are “trending the wrong direction,” she will hold another briefing at 1 p.m. Thursday to announce some new restrictions.
According to data released Wednesday by the R.I. Department of Health, 131 COVID-19 patients are currently in the hospital, which is the highest it’s been since mid-June. Of those patients, 13 are in the intensive care unit and four are on ventilators.
Rhode Island’s new hospital admissions by week jumped from 67 last week to 106 this week, the state’s weekly data showed when it was updated on Tuesday.
Raimondo said that while those numbers are raising red flags, the state is still well below its hospital capacity.
“I don’t want you to panic because we have great doctors, great nurses, and plenty of hospital beds,” she said. “But I do want you to be concerned and alarmed and jolted into making some changes because we’re on the wrong path.”
The Health Department on Tuesday also reported upticks in new cases per 100,000 residents by week (from 98 to 120) and percent positive by week (from 1.5% to 1.6%).
The Health Department announced eight more COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 1,147. Two of those people were in their 60s, Alexander-Scott said, while one was in their 70s, three were in their 80s, and two were in their 90s.
Health officials also reported 160 new positive cases and 5,954 tests administered the previous day, which put the state’s daily positivity rate at 2.7%. Raimondo said the last time the rate was that high was Aug. 3.
In addition to the 160 new cases reported Wednesday, the Health Department also newly disclosed 45 more cases added to previous days during the past two weeks.
Raimondo said the upward-trending data should be a “wake-up call” to all Rhode Islanders and a reminder to wear a mask and keep your distance.
Both she and Alexander-Scott said by and large, people have been doing that while around strangers in public, as well as avoiding large gatherings. But, they said, the virus is being spread by family members, friends and coworkers getting together in familiar settings.
“It’s small social gatherings with people who you know, therefore you feel safe, and therefore you let your guard down,” Raimondo said.
“COVID-19 does not care about that false sense of security,” Alexander-Scott added.
Raimondo and Alexander-Scott both urged Rhode Islanders to be better about wearing masks “within our comfort zones.”
“This is a critical period for us right now,” Alexander-Scott said. “We are sounding the alarm because we can do it ahead of time and we can stop the trend that we’re going in.”
While offering little in terms of details, Raimondo said the new regulations she plans to unveil on Thursday will be “targeted, data-driven steps” to address the issue with small gatherings. She did say she will not be moving the state back to Phase 2, nor will she be issuing broad changes to restaurants, retail stores, or schools.
“There is no reason Rhode Island should get into trouble,” Raimondo said. “There is no reason we should have our hospitals filling up. There is no reason we should fly up that curve.”
“We can stop it now before it’s a problem,” she continued.
The governor admitted there isn’t a way for the state to enforce regulations on small gatherings.
“We’re not going to send the cops to people’s houses,” Raimondo said. “I’m going to ask people to do the right thing, and I’m going to have faith that they’re going to do it.”
“I don’t think anyone’s trying to be malicious, I just everybody’s just gotten too relaxed,” she added.
She did, however, say there will be consequences for large gatherings, which she will discuss further on Thursday.
“If you are one of those folks who is breaking the rules and having bigger parties than you should — you need to stop right now,” Raimondo said. “If you have planned a Halloween party — cancel it right now.”
Raimondo also announced plans to increase testing among asymptomatic people to get a better feel for where the virus is, which she’ll elaborate on more next week. She said she herself will start getting tested on a weekly basis.
“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have symptoms who are positive who are out and about and who are spreading. So that’s on us,” she said.
Free asymptomatic tests can be scheduled on portal.ri.gov.
Alexander-Scott issued a reminder that if someone in your household has COVID-19 symptoms, everyone should stay home.
“You should think about your immediate family or your household as one unit,” she explained. “If one child has symptoms of COVID-19, that child and any siblings in the house all need to stay home. If you, as the adult in the household, have symptoms of COVID-19, your kids cannot go to school that day.”
When the new school year got underway last month, all Rhode Island districts besides Providence and Central Falls were given the green light to phase into full in-person learning.
Those two districts started with a partial reopening, and after reassessing their situation, Raimondo said both will stay that way for the rest of the semester.
“It does not mean that they’ve been having spread or high preponderance of cases in schools in Providence and Central Falls,” she added. “In fact, they haven’t been. In fact, by and large, the systems are working very well.”
As of this week, every single grade level in Providence is back in the classroom, to some degree. Elementary school and special needs students are learning in person five days a week, while middle and high schoolers are alternating between in-person and distance learning.
Raimondo expressed disappointment in the Pawtucket School Committee, which so far has had almost all of the city’s students learning at home.
“I’m devastated for those kids and I’m devastated for their parents and I think it’s not fair,” she said. “Every other district has figured it out, and I’m asking you to try a little harder because the kids deserve it, and we’re here to help.”