17 more deaths, hospitalizations fall in RI; Raimondo unveils new COVID-19 projections

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Saturday’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • 17 new deaths; total now 296
  • Updated COVID-19 forecast shows upcoming plateau or decline
  • High rate of people hospitalized have underlying conditions
  • New $1.5 million rental assistance program begins

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health on Saturday announced 17 more people have died with COVID-19, as Gov. Gina Raimondo unveiled a new forecast showing hospitalizations could start to decline during the next two weeks.

The 17 new deaths mark the highest one-day total reported since April 16, bringing the death toll to 296 in Rhode Island.

The reported deaths come at the same time the number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 declined to 333 compared to the 352 reported Friday.

The state initially reported 316 hospitalizations, but revised that number upward later in the day, citing delayed reporting from some hospitals.

Hospitalizations had been trending upward for nearly a week, and Raimondo noted the state remains in a plateau. To that end, she revealed new projections showing the trend of hospitalizations could either continue to remain level or start to decline in the coming weeks.

“Our efforts have been keeping hospitalizations steady,” Raimondo said during a Saturday news conference. “We have not started to decline. We are losing people every day to this virus, so we are not out of the woods yet.”

The governor’s new forecast, created in partnership with Brown University, shows a “plateau” scenario and a “decline” scenario through the next two weeks. The plateau scenario shows hospitalizations would remain relatively steady between 250 and 350 beds.

The decline scenario projects hospitalizations would start to decrease more quickly, reaching somewhere around 150 beds at the end of two weeks.

The new projections mark the first time the governor has offered an update to the state-based model since she initially unveiled it publicly on April 16. The initial version proved to be wildly inaccurate, projecting the state would need between 2,250 and 4,300 hospital beds between April 27 and May 3.

Raimondo has said she dislikes releasing such information because the virus has been difficult to predict, and the modeling can change so rapidly.

“This is highly imperfect,” Raimondo said. “The modeling is just one piece of the puzzle.”

In addition to future projections, Raimondo released new data showing how daily hospital admissions have increased through the public health crisis. The chart shows a trend line with two inflection points where the trajectory of hospital admissions declined slightly.

The governor directly attributed the first decline to her order shuttering restaurants and bars. The second decline, she claims, came because of her stay-at-home order, noting the changes happened roughly two weeks after both orders. (WPRI 12 is working to independently verify the analysis.)

“It’s crystal clear,” Raimondo said.

The governor also noted a couple of outliers where hospital admissions spiked, attributing the increases to people not staying at home during recent holidays.

“We believe those are the result of people going to congregate with each other over the weekends of Passover and Easter,” Raimondo said.

To that end, Raimondo expressed concern about the nice weather this weekend, saying it’s paramount Rhode Islanders continue to stay at home to ensure there isn’t another outbreak before she plans to start relaxing some of her social distancing mandates after next Friday.

“I’m asking you to not give into that temptation,” she said about going out this weekend. “I know patience is wearing thin, I know it’s a beautiful day, we’re sick of being in our houses … hang in there with me.”

In addition to deaths and hospitalizations, the Health Department announced the number of people in intensive care increased slightly to 80, including an uptick in the number of people on ventilators, which totaled 54.

Another 327 people tested positive for the disease, bringing the cumulative total to 9,289 positive cases since March 1.

During a conference call with reporters, R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the newly reported deaths include people ranging in age from their 40s to their 90s. Fifteen of the 17 new deaths reported were people living in congregate care. Nursing home residents currently account for 215 — or 72% — of the 296 COVID-19 patient deaths in Rhode Island.

The disease has disproportionately hospitalized people with underlying medical conditions, she added, saying 81% of the people hospitalized so far have had at least one unrelated condition. Corresponding data for deaths was not immediately available.

In news unrelated to health, Raimondo said the state has allocated $1.5 million to help low-income Rhode Islanders cover past-due rent bills.

Evictions have been put on hold during the pandemic, as courts remain closed for such purposes until May 17. But the state money is meant to help people safeguard against the possibility after the judicial system reopens, which could result in a rise of homelessness.

The money, which will be made available in chunks up to $5,000, will not be accessible by people looking to pay future rent.

“This is if you’re behind and facing potential eviction,” Raimondo said.

People looking to apply are encouraged to go to the state’s website www.housinghelpri.com.

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