PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Newly released data from the R.I. Department of Health shows a significant spike in weekly cases among 19- to 24-year-old residents, coinciding with recent outbreaks among college students.
The Health Department reported 121 new positive cases on Wednesday along with upward trends in the weekly positivity rate and the rate of new cases per 100,000 people.
During her weekly COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Gina Raimondo said the uptick in new cases is primarily due to the ongoing outbreaks at Providence College, which had 150 new cases last week, and the University of Rhode Island, which had 40 new cases.
In both instances, she said, the cases weren’t traced back to “one big party,” but rather smaller gatherings where students were mixing with different groups, sharing food and drinks, and not wearing masks or social distancing.
“Normally, that’s OK, except not this year,” Raimondo said. “Behavior like that this year endangers other people’s lives, and it’s incredibly selfish.”
The uptick in new cases led to Rhode Island being placed back on the travel advisory lists for Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
“To all of the people of PC who played a hand in this: these are real consequences,” Raimondo added. “This is hurting people’s business in Rhode Island.”
Travel in Massachusetts remains restricted for Rhode Islanders as well.
As a result of the outbreak, PC has temporarily shifted to full remote learning, issued a stay-at-home order and is in the process of testing its entire student body.
Campus-wide mitigation measures were not needed at URI because the cases were more isolated, Raimondo said, though two sororities and a fraternity were placed into quarantine after members tested positive.
The governor urged college students to follow the rules put in place to prevent the spread of the virus, and called on school administrators to hold violators accountable.
She also asked students not to go home if they’re sick, especially if they live out-of-state.
“I know it’s hard to be here sick,” she said. “I know parents would like to come get the students and bring them home, but that just spreads the virus, and if every state and every college did that, we’d have nationwide outbreaks.”
Ultimately, she assured Rhode Islanders that state and school officials have good systems in place and will get the outbreaks under control.
“We know how to handle this,” Raimondo said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, and I think it was avoidable, but it did, and we will handle it.”
Raimondo also said the outbreaks are a stark reminder that everyone, not just college students, should keep their gatherings small and limit their social networks, since it can put lives at risk.
In addition to the new cases, the Health Department reported three additional COVID-19-related fatalities on Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,102. One person was in their 70s, according to Health Director Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, while one was in their 80s and the third was in their 90s.
While hospitalizations ticked up to 86, the state’s data showed a decline in new admissions this week (41) compared to last week (58). Of the COVID-19 patients in the hospital, nine were in intensive care units and five were on ventilators as of mid-day Wednesday.
In addition to the 121 new cases that came back positive on Tuesday, the Health Department also newly disclosed 12 cases for previous days over the past two weeks.
Some of Rhode Island’s new cases came out of the state’s dedicated K-12 testing system, but since more students learning remotely have tested positive compared to their in-school counterparts, Raimondo said that suggests there isn’t widespread transmission in schools and the systems they have in place are working.
On Wednesday, the state launched a new K-12 dashboard breaking down COVID-19 cases by school.
According to Alexander-Scott, the 33 in-person cases were spread out among 25 schools. For the schools with multiple cases, she said they were often able to pinpoint a likely common exposure outside of school, such as family or friends socializing.
Raimondo also addressed the protocols for the state’s K-12 testing sites, saying that last week, more than a dozen teachers who claimed to be close contacts with positive COVID-19 cases carpooled to those sites without first setting up an appointment. While the teachers still got tested, she asked members of the school community to call 844-857-1814 to schedule a same-day test, and noted the Health Department will reach out to all close contacts once someone tests positive.
As for Halloween, Raimondo said she wants to have trick-or-treating but they’re still working on a way to do it safely.
“I want to get creative and have a fun Halloween and see what might be possible,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a list of Halloween activities deemed “high-risk,” which included traditional trick-or-treating.