In the fight against COVID-19, Rhode Island is heading quickly back up the curve – and that development is spurring a rollback of some aspects of the state’s reopening as officials seek to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
During a briefing on Oct. 30, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she aims to avoid a wholesale return to phase two of the reopening process and instead take a “more sophisticated, targeted approach.”
She acknowledged, though, that she may take more drastic action if troubling data trends do not improve – and she again raised the specter of a rising number of COVID-related hospitalizations forcing the state to open its remaining field hospital site in Cranston.
“We’re a team of a million,” she said, “and I’m asking you to ask yourself what we can do right now so we can change that result and keep that field hospital empty.”
The latest coronavirus figures from the Rhode Island Department of Health show alarming trends across the board. Monday’s update showed 232 new cases identified among 4,560 additional tests, a positive rate of 5.1 percent. That is the first time the positive rate has topped 5 percent – a key threshold used by leading health organizations – since late May. In all, 1,154 new positive COVID-19 cases were identified between Friday’s press conference and Monday’s data update.
On Tuesday, another 344 positive cases were identified among 9,235 tests, a positive rate of 3.7 percent.
The state’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 1,212 as of Tuesday, while virus-related hospitalizations rose to 177.
Week-to-week metrics also underscore the cause for alarm. Data released Tuesday show the state’s positive rate for last week was 3.3 percent, up from 2.9 percent the week prior. The number of new hospital admissions rose from 145 to 160 over the same period of time, while the number of new cases per 100,000 residents rose from 244 to 278.
During her Oct. 30 briefing, Raimondo outlined what she said was the first of two rounds of restrictions aimed at stemmed the spread of the virus. Additional announcements were anticipated during this week’s COVID-19 briefing, which was to be held on Thursday rather than its usual Wednesday timeslot due to the election.
Topping the list is a lowering of the social gathering limit from 15 to 10, which Raimondo said is based on the state’s finding that “unstructured social settings” are the primary driver of the recent spread of the coronavirus.
“The spread is happening in casual social settings, not so much in larger, structured environments,” she said.
She pointed to a recent dinner outing involving a group of teachers and an East Bay house party attended by a number of students as cases that resulted in multiple positive tests – and created significant disruptions for school districts.
“If you can keep it to five, that would be better,” the governor said. “Shrink your social network … be religious about sticking to that group of 10 people that you’re going to see. And by the way, even when you’re with them, wear your mask.”
Raimondo on Oct. 30 also announced plans for “stricter rules” regarding visitation at hospitals and in congregate living situations, which she framed as a means to buy time to develop new visitation guidelines.
The Department of Health on Monday announced that is has recommended the state’s hospitals bar visitation for the next two weeks, while nursing homes and assisted living communities are being asked to allow only compassionate care visits during the same time period.
Lifespan on Monday also announced it has temporarily suspended all visitation at its hospitals, with an exception allowing one parent at a time for patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and a birthing partner for maternity patients at Newport Hospital. Other hospitals have taken similar steps.
Raimondo’s most recent briefing also brought a two-week ban on spectators at youth sports events, another move she said was spurred by analysis of recent COVID-19 data and contact tracing. Indoor sports facilities and ice rinks were ordered closed for this week while new protocols are developed.
Additionally, houses of worship are being asked “to offer and strongly encourage virtual services,” while businesses will now be asked to actively remind patrons of mask-wearing requirements.
Not on the table at this point, Raimondo said, is a return to full distance learning for Rhode Island’s K-12 schools.
“We’ve got to keep our kids in school … We’re seeing very, very disturbing results of kids being at home – child neglect, domestic violence, children falling behind, mental illness. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
Gov. Gina Raimondo unveils new COVID-19 restrictions during a press conference at The Vets in Providence on Friday. (Herald photo by John Howell)