PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo is backing off a projection released earlier this week that the state will soon need about 2,250 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, as a high-profile outside forecast suggests far fewer will be required to handle the pandemic’s peak.

On Thursday, Raimondo unveiled a forecast put together by state and academic researchers suggesting the coronavirus crisis would hit its height between April 27 and May 3, resulting in 4,300 or 2,250 Rhode Islanders hospitalized, respectively, depending on which day was the peak.

On Saturday, however, the governor said she doesn’t think that will happen now, especially if people continue to follow her March 28 stay-at-home order — which she said is working. Just 255 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Saturday.

“If everyone keeps doing what they’re doing … I don’t see a world where we have that kind of increase,” Raimondo said.

The significant number of hospitalizations predicted by the state’s model sparked instant skepticism when it was released Thursday; even as she was originally sharing the numbers, Raimondo herself suggested that they might be too high.

The governor said the model looked even worse 10 days ago when epidemiologists forecast 6,000 to 7,000 hospital beds would be needed in a best-guess scenario. The state is in the process of converting three facilities — the Rhode Island Convention Center, the old Citizens Bank offices in Cranston, and a former Lowe’s store in North Kingstown — into temporary field hospitals.

“We were doubling our hospitalizations every three to four days,” Raimondo said in explaining why prior estimates looked so extreme. “It looks so much better,” she added.

The shift moves the state’s forecast more toward the closely watched forecast at the University of Washington, which estimates the state will likely need only 610 hospital beds when the pandemic peaks on Thursday – representing a level that would not overwhelm the state’s hospitals system. (The forecast has a huge range of error, with best- and worst-case scenarios, but the 610 number represents a best-guess.)

The university continuously refines the model as new information becomes available, and now estimates roughly 438 Rhode Islanders will die from the disease through Aug. 4. Raimondo has said the state-based model estimated between 2,100 and 4,000 Rhode Islanders would die through October, although that was before she offered a more optimistic outlook on Saturday.

A look under the hood of the two models helps explain why there are such broad discrepancies. University of Washington epidemiologists, for example, assume Rhode Islanders are 100% compliant with the governor’s social distancing mandates, which Raimondo says is not the case.

Rhode Island also used a rate of infection – known as “R-naught” – of between 3 and 4, meaning each person with the disease was going on to infect three or four others. That’s nearly double the rate reported in China, which could help explain why the state-based forecast has looked so gloomy.

“That was just a few days after we did the stay-at-home order,” Raimondo explained. “Now, we’ve had the benefit of a couple of weeks of a stay-at-home order, and it looks so much better.”

As hospitalizations have slowed — growing by only three from Friday into Saturday — Raimondo said the infection rate is now somewhere around 2, bringing it more into line with early studies out of China. (A disease with an R-naught greater than 1 is considered to be spreading.)  

The rosier outlook will be welcome news for residents anxious to start reopening the economy. Raimondo said her plan is to avoid extending her stay-at-home order when it expire May 8, but she’s concerned that lifting restrictions too quickly could result in a renewed flareup of the disease.

The University of Washington epidemiologists are now offering a projection for when states can reopen with containment strategies. For Rhode Island, the researchers estimate it won’t be until June 8 that “relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation and limiting gathering size.”

Raimondo said she expects to make an announcement about how she plans to reopen the economy in the coming week. A key metric will be when the number of new coronavirus cases declines for multiple days in a row, she said.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ted Nesi ( is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook