RI leaders stress importance of flu shots amid pandemic; 3 more COVID-19 deaths, 54 new cases

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo held her weekly COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, but she and Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott spent some time talking about a different illness.

As we head into fall and schools get ready to reopen, both implored Rhode Islanders young and old to get flu shots.

“This flu season, vaccination for the flu is more important than it has ever been. I cannot emphasize this enough,” Raimondo said. “This is truly a life and death situation.”

“We need this to avoid a situation where the flu and COVID-19 are straining our health care system simultaneously,” Alexander-Scott said. “If, God forbid, you or a family member needs to go to the hospital, we want to make sure the hospital is not overflowing with people with the flu who could have been vaccinated.”

Flu: Symptoms, Vaccinations, and More Information (RI.gov) »

In a normal year, according to Raimondo, 55% of adults and 75% of children get flu shots in Rhode Island. She said that needs to be much higher this year and there will be “no excuse not to get a flu shot” since they’re aiming to make it easier than ever.

The state will be bringing them into cities and towns by partnering with schools, nursing homes, grocery stores, and community organizations, Raimondo said, and anyone who goes for an asymptomatic COVID-19 test will be offered one on the spot.

Video Now: Governor Gina Raimondo (story continues below)

“We will be in your community,” Raimondo added. “If you can’t afford it, it will be free. If you don’t have health insurance, it will be free.”

The governor said the state has already ordered 150,000 more doses than usual, and is prepared to get more if necessary.

Alexander-Scott said the vaccine is not only the best way to protect yourself from the flu, but also the people around you, especially younger children, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions.

“This is something we all need to take seriously as a state. This is where our shared responsibility is in place,” she added. “We’re going to do our part to make sure the flu vaccine is available. We want you to do your part to make sure that you and your loved ones take advantage.”

Video Now: Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott (story continues below)

Alexander-Scott also discussed fall allergies and how the symptoms of which can overlap with COVID-19. There’s no certain way to tell the difference when looking at the symptoms alone, she said, urging everyone to routinely monitor their symptoms.

To that end, Raimondo announced an update to the state’s Crush COVID smartphone app being released on Wednesday that “does a better job of not draining the battery” and allows users to track and log symptoms for everyone in their household.

After you enter any symptoms you’re experiencing, either a green smiley face or red unhappy face will pop up, indicating whether you’re cleared to go out or should stay home.

“Hopefully this will make it a little bit easier on businesses, on schools, on all of us,” Raimondo said. “Rather than answering the same set of questions everywhere we go, you can simply hold you phone up and show your green smiley face for that day from the Crush COVID app.”

“We will only use the information that you provide to us with case investigation and contact tracing to help you and keep the people around you safe,” Alexander-Scott noted.

While state inspectors this past weekend saw high compliance in terms of mask-wearing, along with a big improvement in proper social distancing at restaurants and bars, Raimondo said only about 85% of businesses were found to be conducting health screenings at their entrances.

Both she and Alexander-Scott continued to stress the importance of following their COVID-19 mandates, saying it’s the only way we’ll stay on track in terms of getting people back to school and work and ramping up the state’s economy.

Earlier on Wednesday, the R.I. Department of Health announced three additional COVID-19-associated deaths, bringing the state’s total to 1,062. All three were in their 80s, according to Alexander-Scott.

“We continue to lose people every day, which means we have to continue to be vigilant and follow the rules,” Raimondo said.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 climbed to 82, with four patients in the intensive care unit and three on ventilators.

Health officials also reported 54 new positive cases and a daily positivity rate of 1%.

Alexander-Scott called the numbers “encouraging,” and said there’s been noticeable improvements in the state’s hardest-hit communities. The rate of cases in Central Falls has fallen to 31 per 100,000 residents, which had recently been closer to 115, she said, while the rate in Providence dropped to 91 from 100 or more.

Video Now: Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green (story continues below)

Those two cities were the only school districts not given the green light to begin full in-person learning next Monday. Both will be reassessed in mid-October.

Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green assured students, parents and teachers that schools will be safe and ready to reopen by next week.

The walk-throughs of each building will be finished by Wednesday, Raimondo said, and nearly all schools have met the criteria needed for classes to resume.

“I think its highly unlikely, based on everything at least that I know so far, that an entire school wouldn’t be allowed to open, but maybe a particular classroom might not be allowed to be used,” Raimondo explained.

Raimondo said she will hold her eighth and final online forum on reopening schools at 3 p.m. Thursday on her Facebook page. The forum will be dedicated to answering students’ questions, and she’ll be joined by Dr. James McDonald from the R.I. Department of Health and Barbara Cottam, chair of the R.I. Board of Education, as well as Infante-Green.

In terms of nursing homes, Raimondo said it’s come to her attention that some facilities have not been allowing visitors, or enough visitors. She said the Health Department sent out updated guidance last week which says visitation can and should continue for non-infected, asymptomatic residents unless a facility has been directed specifically to stop.

“A single positive case is no longer a reason to completely halt visitation at a nursing home or assisted-living facility,” she said.

Raimondo stressed that these facilities need to make sure residents and their families have access to regular visitation both in-person and virtually.

Video Now: Q&A portion of Wednesday’s briefing

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