An additional investment is being made in a campaign to support outdoor commerce and activities across the state, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday, while the “show will go on” – with restrictions – as trick-or-treaters prepare for Halloween.
The governor’s weekly briefing brought few major announcements. Week-to-week comparisons show slight declines in Rhode Island’s positive test rate and number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, although new hospitalizations have increased – a trend the governor said is “not reason for panic,” given other recent numbers and the state’s existing hospital capacity.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 outbreaks at Providence College and the University of Rhode Island, which fueled an uptick in cases in September, appear to have been brought under control. Raimondo added, however, that a review of three-day averages in cases among various age groups shows a “pretty alarming and pretty crystal clear” trend among people between the ages of 19 and 24.
“It’s notable, it’s obvious, it jumps off the page,” she said, referencing a “huge spike” in cases among that age cohort roughly two weeks ago.
“We have to do something different. We are not reaching these young people … They are putting the rest of Rhode Island in danger,” she added, announcing the formation of a “young adult task force” to address the issue.
Perhaps the most significant news from Wednesday’s event was the investment of an additional $4 million in the state’s “Take It Outside” campaign. Raimondo said the program, which was announced two weeks ago with an additional $1 million investment from the state’s federal CARES Act funding, has received roughly 80 applications.
The governor said she has been “inspired” by the “unbelievably creative, can-do ideas” included in the applications. An initial round of grant awards, totaling $3 million, were scheduled to be announced Thursday, she said, while a second round for the additional $2 million will be opened shortly. Details can be found at takeitoutsideri.com.
“The science is crystal clear. It is much safer to be outside,” Raimondo said.
In a related announcement, Raimondo said effective immediately, the spacing requirement between outdoor tables at restaurants is being reduced from 8 feet to 6 feet. The governor acknowledged the change is minor but said she hopes dining establishments will be able to “fit a few more tables in” to help boost revenue.
In terms of Halloween, Raimondo expanded on previous remarks indicating she wants the celebration to go on despite the pandemic.
“This year, there will be Halloween in Rhode Island … but like everything else, it’s going to look different,” she said.
The governor and Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said some of the recommended changes will involve setting out candy in individual pieces or small bags, maintaining small groups, washing or sanitizing hands between stops and wearing cloth-based face coverings rather than typical Halloween masks.
In terms of large social gatherings in conjunction with the festivities, Raimondo said: “We are going to be on high alert for big Halloween house parties.” In remarks directed toward college students specifically, she said: “Don’t even think about it … We will bust your party. We will fine everybody 500 bucks.”
from the Department of Health showed 173 new cases of COVID-19 identified from among 9,026 tests, a positive rate of 1.9 percent. Raimondo called that figure “a little higher than we’ve been seeing, but still excellent.”
One more person has died in connection with the coronavirus, bringing the state’s toll to 1,114. As of Wednesday, 103 Rhode Islanders were hospitalized due to COVID-19, with seven being treated in ICUs.
* In terms of testing among members of the state’s K-12 community, Raimondo said the system dedicated to the state’s schools has run roughly 4,000 tests in the past two weeks. That system identified 60 positive cases, she said, while another 100 cases were identified through other testing systems.
Among the total of 160 cases, Raimondo said it was a “roughly equal” split between those taking part in distance learning and those physically present in school buildings.
“At this point, we’re not seeing any evidence of widespread transmission of the virus in schools and in the school community,” she said.
The governor also said that as the Oct. 13 target date for resumption of full in-person classes nears, she believes “most” districts are on course to meet that goal.
“I am continuing to put pressure on [districts], but also, even more than pressure, we’re doing a lot of behind the scenes work to help them … I believe more than ever that it’s the right thing to do,” she said. * Raimondo announced that the federal government has agreed to send approximately 300,000 Abbott BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 tests to Rhode Island by year’s end, a development she called “pretty amazing” and “game changing.”
The BinaxNOW test, she said, does not require a machine to process and provides results in approximately 15 minutes. She said officials are working to determine how the tests will be deployed.