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Vast majority of COVID-19 patients in RI recuperating at home or recovered

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State leaders don’t know exactly how many Rhode Islanders have recovered from COVID-19, but the number of people trying to get better at home combined with those who have likely beaten the disease totals about 88% of all cases, a Target 12 analysis of Health Department data shows.

Questions about the recovery rate come up almost daily during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s news briefings, but health officials so far have avoided offering specific numbers. They say that’s in part because there’s only a limited number of people who get retested after becoming ill – which would provide a more definitive measure of recovery.  

Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott nonetheless has said that people are considered recovered a week after symptoms start if there are no signs of fever without medication during the last three days and other symptoms – such as sore throat and shortness of breath – have completely resolved.

“When all of those apply, that’s when someone is considered recovered from COVID-19,” Alexander-Scott said Wednesday.

Based on those guidelines, it’s possible to draw some broad conclusions about who has recovered in Rhode Island.

Raimondo on Thursday said positive cases totaled 1,727 since testing started more than a month ago. During that time, 43 people have died, while 160 people are currently hospitalized.

By removing deaths and hospitalizations from the total number of cases, the remaining 1,524 positive cases – or 88% of the total – represent those who are currently at home with symptoms not severe enough yet to warrant hospitalization or who have recovered from the disease.

Of course, there is widespread evidence that some people who initially stay at home with mild symptoms later require hospitalization. And there are people currently in the hospital who could be well on their way toward recovery. But the snapshot of data offers at least some window into the fact that the vast majority of Rhode Islanders diagnosed with the disease are either experiencing mild symptoms or have already recovered.

Retesting someone who previously tested positive for COVID-19 could be a more definitive way to determine whether someone has recovered, but Rhode Island is only using that approach in limited circumstances.

“There is a test-based strategy [for determining recoveries], which is two negative tests over more than a 24-hour period,” Alexander-Scott explained. “We’re usually reserving that for folks who might be hospitalized with COVID-19 and the hospital needs to know whether personal protective equipment is still needed.”

Raimondo says ideally she would like to see the state to get to a place where testing is so ubiquitous that people can access tests and receive results almost immediately. While the state has boosted its ability to test more people each day — administering nearly 2,000 a day recently with the help of a new CVS Health rapid-testing site — Raimondo said there remains fierce competition between states, the federal government and other nations when it comes to procuring test materials.

The governor said she had spent all morning Thursday “arguing, pushing and cajoling” suppliers to send more tests kits to Rhode Island.

“There’s still a massive shortage of supplies,” she said.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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