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RI sees COVID-19 cases increase in familiar and unusual places

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is seeing a new increase of COVID-19 cases this summer, as infections are popping up in different pockets of the state.

A Target 12 analysis of R.I. Department of Health data shows infections are increasing again in some of the state’s hardest-hit neighborhoods — including the West End of Providence — along with other communities outside of the state’s capital — such as Woonsocket, Portsmouth and Coventry.

The latest uptick in cases -- which is comparable to last summer, but still far from the second-wave peak seen during the winter -- comes at the same time federal regulators have scaled back on previous efforts to ease coronavirus-related restrictions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated Americans resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces in areas of "substantial" or "high" transmission, as the more infectious delta variant becomes widespread.

In Rhode Island, the Health Department reports the state is currently experiencing "substantial" transmission, as the 145 new cases reported Wednesday represented the largest single-day total in months.

But the Target 12 analysis of new infections between July 14 and July 28 shows not all neighborhoods are seeing the same spread. For example, many of the less populated ZIP codes in the western and southeastern parts of the state, such as Foster and Little Compton, have seen few, if any cases.

But Woonsocket, which currently has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, has seen more than 40 new infections over the past two weeks, ranking second most in the state during that time. And Portsmouth and parts of Coventry, which have seen fewer cases throughout the pandemic, are also experiencing upticks.

Asked last week about what's going on in some of these communities, including Portsmouth, Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken pointed to some usual and unusual contributing factors.

"The two main drivers are familiar: social gatherings and travel," he said. "The factor that is a little newer is cases among unvaccinated children."

The Health Department on Wednesday reported case rates increased last week across all age groups. But there have been some more pronounced growth among younger Rhode Islanders, including those 0-11 years old, who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

The highest rates, however, were still reported reported among older teenagers and young adults -- including 30 to 39 year old Rhode Islanders.

Gov. Dan McKee and public health officials have repeatedly urged unvaccinated and eligible Rhode Islanders to get inoculated. The governor expressed some frustration Tuesday with those who have chosen not to so far.

"I don't know what more evidence they would want," McKee said. "The data shows that people who are getting vaccinated are protected from going to the hospital at degrees higher than the normal flu vaccinations."

Overall, Rhode Island has seen the total number of daily infections increase from an average of about 15 per day in June to nearly 100 per day this week.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is an investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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