Rhode Island has confirmed its first case of a rare inflammatory illness that has affected children in other parts of the country during the COVID-19 crisis, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott announced Friday.
The news came as Alexander-Scott and Gov. Gina Raimondo spent a significant portion of their daily briefing on the pandemic addressing an “alarming and precipitous drop” in childhood immunizations and wellness during the crisis – and urging parents across the state to schedule appointments with medical care providers to ensure their children are up to date.
Alexander-Scott said the child diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, is currently hospitalized, although she is not in intensive care. The child has tested positive for COVID-19, she said.
She did not provide additional details regarding the child’s age or community of residence, although she said there are no other suspected cases of the syndrome at this point. She also stressed that the condition, while typically found in children who have contracted the novel coronavirus, is not itself contagious and is instead the result of a bodily reaction to the virus in rare cases.
“I know that multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children may sound concerning, but I want to reiterate that we are talking about a rare condition,” she said, adding that the prevalence of COVID-19 among Rhode Island’s children has remained low throughout the crisis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MIS-C is “a condition where different parts of the body can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.”
“We do not yet know what causes MIS-C,” the CDC’s description continues. “However, we know that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.”
Raimondo, like Alexander-Scott, sought to reassure parents following the announcement.
“As the doctor said, it wasn’t a surprise. We’re seeing this in other states … Parents should just do what they’ve been doing,” she said, including remaining “vigilant” in terms of hand-washing, mask-wearing, avoiding crowds and keeping children home when they experience symptoms of illness.
The governor also said the MIS-C case “hasn’t affected our thinking” in terms of summer camp and youth sports allowances.
‘Good news’ on data; phase three near
Of the 2,253 new COVID-19 tests included in Friday’s data update from the Department of Health, just 25 were positive – a positive rate of just more than 1 percent. The state’s overall case count now stands at 16,661.
The number of patients who are hospitalized, being treated in ICUs or on ventilators also continued to decline or hold steady, at 91, 16 and 15, respectively, as of Friday’s update.
Seven more people have died in connection with COVID-19, however, bringing the state’s overall toll to 927.
While the picture locally continues to improve, Raimondo on Friday reprised warnings – and a stern tone – regarding how fluid the situation remains.
She again pointed to the experience of other states, including Texas and Arizona, which are seeing case counts surge and hospitals filling near capacity. She also noted that Thursday represented the largest single-day increase nationally in the number of COVID-19 cases, with more than 40,000 new positive tests across the U.S.
“This could change very quickly, and we are foolish if we deny that. We are foolish to think we are out of the woods … And if you don’t believe me, look at what’s happening in Texas and Arizona,” she said, adding: “I don’t want that to be Rhode Island’s story.”
She continued: “This virus has had a devastating effect on our state. Devastating … We have the power to prevent ourselves from going back to where we were in March and April. But each and every one of us needs to acknowledge we have a shared responsibility to one another.”
Raimondo’s executive order outlining phase two of the state’s reopening plan is due to expire Monday, and the governor said she will have an announcement that day regarding when, and to what degree, the third phase of the process will begin. She said she is considering out-of-state travel restrictions as part of the move to phase three and may include more stringent rules related to large gatherings due to the escalating situation elsewhere in the country.
“I just have to pause, study, reassess … And hopefully we’ll say on Monday, phase three starts Tuesday,” she said.
Immunization drop-off a ‘potential public health crisis’
Raimondo on Friday said the state has experienced an “alarming and precipitous drop” in the rate of childhood immunization during the crisis, and many families have also put off routine checkups and wellness visits for youngsters because of the pandemic.
The governor said a Pediatric Advisory Council appointed to advise her administration about caring for children during the crisis has found that Rhode Island saw a 52 percent drop in immunizations for children between the ages of 2 and 7 in April and May – a decline some suggest is even higher.
“We’re behind. It’s a problem. It’s going to manifest itself in big problems in the winter if we don’t get these kids checked and immunized,” she said.
Addressing families who have delayed immunizations and wellness checks, she added: “I need you to call your doctor today or next week and get an appointment.”
Raimondo said the advisory panel is particularly concerned about measles, mumps and rubella vaccines for 4-year-olds. The governor said with an Aug. 31 target date for the reopening of school buildings, time is of the essence to address the situation.
She directed families who may be reticent to bring children into public settings to visit reopeningri.com for additional information and guidance about safety protocols that are in place.
“[Health care providers] are bending over backwards to make sure it’s safe,” the governor said, acknowledging that safety concerns are “real” but adding: “At this point, the bigger risk is you not taking your children to be immunized.”
Raimondo also said federal stimulus funding is being used to support care providers as part of the immunization push, and that a range of steps – from expanded hours at offices and clinics to partnerships with school districts – are being taken in an effort to ensure the effort cuts across demographic and geographic lines.