Key Measures Trending Down: A summary of the governor’s December 18 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, Dr. Jim McDonald and Dr. Philip Chan gave the weekly COVID-19 press conference today from the Vets.

Today’s data is as follows: 395 new cases of COVID-19, with a positive test rate of 4.4%, a low number the governor was particularly proud of even with the lower testing numbers due to the recent snow storm. There are 459 people hospitalized for reasons associated with the coronavirus; 56 people are in the intensive care unit and 29 people are on ventilators. DOH reports 23 new fatalities for a cumulative total of 1,625 deaths. All three trends state officials closely monitor weekly — new hospital admissions, percent positive averages and new cases per 100,000 — are trending down for the first time in more than two months. 

“That’s all good news,” said Raimondo about the trend lines. Today Governor Raimondo announced the pause would end this upcoming Monday. Mobility data available to state health offices showed a marked decline in mobility for the duration of the pause, and the R1 value has now been estimated to be as low as 1. 

“When I was up here a week ago, we started to see a slight decrease in percent positivity,” said the governor. “Today I’m relieved the decline has continued.” She characterized our hospital system, as “stretched” but not overwhelmed to the degree of some other states in the nation. The new rules for reopening are live on reopeningri.com; the governor outlined most of them to the press last week and they will be officially starting on Monday as expected. 

With Christmas on the horizon, the governor asked people to celebrate Christmas with the people they live with and not travel too much, similar to what she asked last month for Thanksgiving. Raimondo thanked the Catholic church for canceling midnight mass, and instead holding extra masses enabling congregants to spread out more. The governor also thanked other houses of worship for working so hard to accommodate public health concerns. She also announced today statewide, aggressive “pop-up” testing ahead of the Christmas holidays. State officials will work to meet the people where they are at sites like shopping malls and other holiday areas. A full list of sites will be available on the RIDOH website.

Schools will be returning next month as media reported last week. The governor is eyeing a ramping-up strategy similar to what schools were expected to do in the autumn. Schools are to start allowing in-person learning again on January 7th and full ramp up by the 15th. State leaders have been distributing 6,000 HEPA filters and RIDOH guidance ahead of the upcoming school term.

RIDOH has given nursing homes the greenlight to train family members as essential caregivers. Family members will be able to sign up on nursing homes that are taking part in the program to help family members with grooming or hygiene or similar needs to some degree. Potential caregivers will be given the same training, guidance and restrictions as any other employee of a nursing home facility. The governor said it was a program that worked well in a lot of states, and they were glad to be bringing it here ahead of the holiday season.

Dr. Chan gave the state’s vaccine update. Vaccination data is now recorded on RIDOH’s COVID data dashboard. Rhode Island has received 9,750 doses of vaccines. Two thousand have gone to RI Hospital; Newport, Miriam, Kent, Women and Infants got 1,000 doses each, with the rest going to South County Hospital, Fatima Hospital, Roger Williams Hospital, Westerly Hospital and the Slater hospital. Dr. Chan stressed the state is not administering the vaccine, the state has shifted that burden onto the hospital networks. More vaccines will be delivered in the weeks to come, with Dr. Chan noting that reports of the state receiving less than originally reported is true. State health officials do not know why the number will be less, but are working on it. RIDOH, in collaboration with CVS and Walgreens, are also preparing to start vaccinating nursing home residents starting on December 28. The state is still finalizing its vaccine plan for after the first phase, but did announce today that residents of Central Falls would be prioritized as they have been classified as higher risk.

Earlier this month, a DOH report found that drug overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020 are 25.9% up from 2019. Opioid specific deaths are up 33% during the pandemic. Before this year, overdoses in the state were on a declining trend. Motif asked today what the state’s plan was to combat this recent surge in numbers. “It’s a very top priority for the new year,” said the governor. “I think we need to be more aggressive in launching a recovery-friendly workplace initiative.” For current work, the governor points toward her jobs initiatives in getting people back to work, saying that a job was the key to sustaining recovery. However the COVID economy has made it hard for anyone to get or sustain a job. 

According to the governor, the current stimulus bill has money set aside for addiction, and the state was prepared to utilize that money if allocated immediately, using it on medically assisted treatment in prison and the community, spending it on community outreach, peer recovery workers and telemedicine. Rhode Island has recorded 316 overdose deaths in 2020, and is on track to meet or exceed its 2016 peak.