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Here’s where COVID-19 is in RI, five weeks into the crisis

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In an odd flip-flop, Rhode Island’s most populated municipality is ninth per-capita in confirmed COVID-19 cases, and the ninth most populated is first, as the R.I. Department of Health braces for an expected increase in confirmed cases in the coming days.

North Providence, a city of 32,559 people, has 61 confirmed cases — a per-capita rate of one per 532 residents (the highest per capita in the state). Providence, with 96 cases and a population of just over 179,000, has one case per 1,758 (ninth most).

The sudden-but-expected impact on nursing homes explained the cluster in North Providence, with 55 of the town’s 61 cases involving Golden Crest Nursing Centre residents. (That jump was reported just three days after the department of health said there were a total of 15 cases in three nursing homes.)

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza credited “early action” for the city’s low per-capita total.

“We were the first city to declare a State of Emergency, we cancelled events, closed down establishments, and limited gatherings to 100 from the beginning,” Elorza said.

45 cases at Pawtucket’s Oak Hill Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing helped create a cluster in Pawtucket. But even without those 45, the city of just over 71,000 — the state’s fourth most populated city — is still one of the hardest hit areas on a per-capita basis with a total of 91 confirmed cases.

Mayor Donald Grebien contributed the spike there to its dense population, residents not obeying orders against gathering in parks and language barriers in communicating disease protecting protocol.

“We have our police on their public address system, in four different languages. We remind people, if you’re sick stay at home. Social distancing, wash your hands,” Grebien said.

The mayor also said many of the city’s residents transportation issues, prompting him to request a Pawtucket testing site from the department of health.

Outside the largest clusters of cases, a number of smaller communities have relatively high per-capita totals, including Barrington, Burrilville and Smithfield, but all three have 13 or less confirmed cases.

And while last week 22 of the state’s 39 municipalities had five cases or less, that total has shrunk to 13. The department of health is not releasing exact totals for communities with less than five cases.

Another shrinking number is the locations with no cases at all. A week ago there were 11 with none. Now, only New Shoreham and Richmond are virus free. (The Block Island Times reported the community has its first case, but that information has not been verified by the department of health.)

All of this could change rapidly in the coming days.

Six sites around the state, including drive-through locations at CCRI in Warwick, URI and RIC, are now geared up to test about 1,000 people a day.

If that pace is realized, by Monday the total tested in the state could just about double the 5,069 tests given since the first confirmed case 34 days ago.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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