Key takeaways from this week’s briefing

  • Delayed daily data blamed on slow lab
  • Raimondo concerned about virus trends
  • Social gatherings flagged as problem again
  • Local, limited Thanksgiving plans urged
  • Halloween contest for students

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo warned Rhode Islanders on Wednesday that the state is losing ground in the fight to combat coronavirus, as cases surge amid the change in seasons.

“The numbers aren’t good,” Raimondo said at her weekly briefing. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”

“The bottom line is, we’re not in a good place,” she said. “These are not the trends we would like to be seeing, and it’s clear we have community spread across the state.”

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Unusually, the state’s daily release of new data on COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations and deaths was delayed and unavailable when the governor began her briefing. R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the numbers will come out “later this afternoon.”

Later in the day, a Health Department spokesperson said there were 284 new positive tests out of 10,880 people tested on Wednesday, for a 2.6% positivity rate. The department said 130 Rhode Islanders were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and five more had died after contracting the virus.

In addition to the 284 cases reported Wednesday, the Health Department also newly disclosed 187 new cases added to previous days over the past two weeks. The bulk of those cases — 161 — were added to the daily amount reported Tuesday, resulting in a one-day total of 317 cases instead of 156.

Overall, Alexander-Scott reiterated state officials’ contention that the problem is Rhode Islanders being increasingly lax about social gatherings, which are supposed to be limited to 15 people and involve masks with anyone but immediate family. She said Health Department data shows the size of the average social gathering has risen from 22.9 people to 27.6 people.

“That’s going in the wrong direction,” she said.

Young people and religious gatherings are also an increasing problem for spread of the virus, according to Alexander-Scott.

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Rhode Island will be receiving 300,000 Abbott BinaxNOW Ag Card rapid tests from the federal government by the end of the year, and the governor said the state’s testing team has decided to deploy those in three settings where there is “a need for speed” — K-12 schools, health centers in high-density communities, and colleges and universities.

With barely a month until Thanksgiving, Raimondo spent a significant portion of the briefing urging Rhode Islanders to scrap their usual plans for the holiday to avoid spreading the disease.

“My request to you is to keep it local this year,” she said. “I’m asking you please to consider staying home for Thanksgiving even if you typically travel to see aunts, uncles, family and friends.”

“No one’s forbidding you. There’s no official regulation,” she added. “I’m just telling you it’s in the state’s best interest if everyone stays local.”

For those who decide to travel or host gatherings for Thanksgiving, state officials are asking that they self-quarantine for 14 days before and after the holiday, and to get tested both before and after as well.

Noting Thanksgiving is just the start of the holiday season, Raimondo acknowledged, “It’s going to be a rough couple of months.”

With cases also rising in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Raimondo said she is interested in pursuing a regional travel plan. She has spoken with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont about the idea but nothing has been decided.

In the meantime, the state will hold a Halloween contest challenging Rhode Island students to show how they will celebrate the holiday this year while following Health Department guidance. Winners will receive cash prizes.

For the unemployed, the Back to Work RI initiative is adding a new virtual career center and a job-matching tool that uses artificial intelligence.