PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Deaths tied to COVID-19 in Rhode Island are happening at the highest rates in suburban communities with disease-plagued nursing homes, according to a newly released breakdown of city and town fatality data.
The R.I. Department of Health released the new data this week, revealing Providence residents currently make up a quarter of the nearly 1,000 deaths reported so far in Rhode Island, which is the most of any community.
But East Providence leads the way when deaths are measured on a per capita basis in order to allow for apples-to-apples comparisons across communities with different-sized populations, according to a Target 12 analysis. East Providence has seen 82.6 deaths per 10,000 residents, compared to just 14.2 deaths per 10,000 residents in Providence.
Overall, the highest rates of COVID-19-related deaths are found in communities outside the more densely populated urban areas, which is counter to the trend seen with COVID-19 cases.
The thickly settled communities of Central Falls, Providence and Pawtucket currently lead the way when it comes to cases, which is part of why Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said the state decided to start releasing the new death data.
“We added the numbers of fatalities by city or town of residence to help people understand the geographic distribution of our fatalities,” Wendelken said in an email. “We have had geographic data up for cases for a while, but the demographics for our COVID-19-associated fatalities are slightly different than our demographics for cases.”
The disparity between the cases and deaths is explained in part by the high rate of deaths among nursing home residents, who currently make up about 80% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Rhode Island. The disease has spread quickly among older adults living in congregate care facilities, as COVID-19 has been shown to more severely affect older people or those with underlying health conditions.
East Providence, a mostly suburban community of roughly 47,000 people, is home to five nursing homes that have been slammed by the disease, helping explain its high per-capita death rate.
Currently, the state reports 108 people have died with COVID-19 in East Providence, which includes between 90 and 110 nursing home residents, according to separate nursing home data released last week. (The state reports nursing home statistics as a range because the numbers tend to fluctuate between reporting periods.)
North Providence, a town of roughly 32,000 people, has a similar story, ranking No. 2 in deaths per capita. The state reports 76 people have died with COVID-19 in North Providence during the pandemic, representing 23.4 deaths per 10,000 residents. As of last Friday, nursing home and assisted-living residents made up at least 71 of those deaths, according to the state.
“We have learned a lot about nursing homes,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said last week. “The virus has highlighted how hard it is to keep people safe when you have an infectious disease.”
Golden Crest Nursing Centre, located in North Providence, was one of the first nursing homes where the disease wreaked havoc in the early days of the public health crisis. The state reports at least 35 residents with COVID-19 have died there, although the facility has done better to prevent the disease more recently, reporting no new cases within the prior two weeks – as of last Friday.
Johnston has the third highest rate of COVID-19 related deaths in Rhode Island, reporting 22.2 deaths per 10,000 residents, according to state data. Like East Providence and North Providence, the community of roughly 30,000 people reports at least 45 nursing home residents have died with COVID-19.
Smithfield, a town of roughly 22,000 people, reports 47 COVID-19 related deaths so far. It ranks No. 4 with 21.7 deaths per 10,000 people, according to the state data. The suburban town’s deaths include at least 40 across three nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the village of Greenville.
The list goes on. Twenty-eight communities have reported at least one COVID-19 death. The eleven communities with no reported deaths include Barrington, Charlestown, East Greenwich, Foster, Glocester, Jamestown, Narragansett, New Shoreham (Block Island), Portsmouth, Richmond and West Greenwich, according to the state data.
The number of new deaths reported each day in Rhode Island has slowed in recent weeks, and nursing homes appear to be doing a much better job keeping the disease at bay.
As of last Friday, the state reported only a handful of new cases within the prior two weeks, marking a stark change from the past few months when hundreds of new cases were reported each week.
State leaders claim public health officials and nursing home staff have gotten better at maintaining the disease, spurring the decision to reopen facilities to visitors beginning last week.