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COVID Cases Continue to Rise: A summary of the governor’s November 12 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo and DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott gave the weekly press briefing today at 1pm. 

COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the Ocean State. DOH reports 936 new cases since yesterday, the second day in a row new case numbers exceeded 900. Rhode Island now has officially exceeded two out of the three thresholds the governor laid out before considering harsh new restrictions. There are 362 cases on average per 100,000 people, well above the 100 case number set by the state. Hospitalizations per week also are greater than the 210 threshold set by the state. Hospitalizations per week currently are 268. The only metric for more restrictions not yet triggered is the percent positive testing rate; the state average is still below 5% at 3.9%. Twenty-eight people are currently in the ICU, 17 are on ventilators. There were seven additional deaths reported today, DOH did not go into detail on their ages.

Governor Raimondo stated lockdowns were in the future, possibly as soon as Thanksgiving if Rhode Islanders don’t change their ways. Emergency rooms statewide continue to be overrun with cases, and the governor brought three doctors to the press conference today to share their experiences. COVID beds are at 80% capacity and will be filled within a week if current data trends continue. Drills are being run to prepare the Cranston field hospital, and at the current trajectory, it could be open in as few as three weeks. Governor Raimondo announced today that the state is putting together an emergency COVID data system so the healthcare system can make decisions with real-time data in sight of the whole system.

Dr. Laura Forman, chief of emergency medicine at Kent Hospital, was among three doctors invited by the governor to attend the press conference. Dr. Forman spoke of her experiences with COVID in her hospital rooms this year. “These are not just statistics and numbers,” she said. “This is real.”

Forman spoke at length about what she sees daily. A mother working in retail wondering how many people she exposed. A young coworker of Forman’s who ended up on a ventilator and dealing with serious post-COVID syndrome, struggling to breathe, with low energy and potentially never getting fully back to normal. Forman stressed how vulnerable everyone is to the disease regardless of age or medical condition. She emphasized how people with this disease die alone, far away from family given the highly infectious nature of the virus. Forman said staff hold patients’ hands as they die, holding up their personal phones so family can say goodbye through FaceTime. “Those are [the ones] who don’t get to go home from the hospital,” Forman said. “Those who do don’t always get to return to a normal life.” Hospitals are on track to be overwhelmed, forcing the field hospital to open within days or weeks.

“The surge is coming at a rough time,” said Raimondo. Healthcare staffs are tired from combating the virus for months, and hospitals are now filled with people who have non-COVID healthcare issues. In spring, hospitals were empty as the state restricted elective procedures to free up space.

Raimondo also spent a great deal of time talking about testing. Rhode Islanders need to isolate themselves as soon as they get a positive test result. The governor said they were finding people not complying with quarantining after exposure. She also announced test results would all be found on one single source that everyone can access: portal.ri.gov/results.

With fresh news of a vaccine, the governor remains hopeful it can be distributed in the early months of 2021, possibly starting at the end of this year. The governor outlined the distribution plan state officials are going to use, administering it first to certain at-risk populations such as healthcare workers, teachers and people with underlying conditions. “If you’re a youngish, healthy person, it’s gonna be awhile until you get the vaccine.” Dr. Alexander-Scott mentioned the Ocean State was a leader in immunization and while the state cannot force people to take a vaccine, it would use its considerably effective infrastructure for other vaccines to encourage people to take the COVID vaccine.

Governor Raimondo defended the use of lockdowns when questioned about it by a member of the press today. She admitted she was exasperated as many of her incremental restrictions did little to curb the rise of COVID cases, and said soon she may not have a choice whether to order another lockdown or stay at home order. Schools still remain safe, said the governor, with more cases coming from students distance learning than students involved with in-person learning. 

During questions, Dr. Forman said that in the spring, emergency rooms were filled with elderly patients. Now emergency rooms across the state are filled with younger people, teenagers or older. What is absent in the ER are greater numbers of cases in school-aged children, which means in-person schooling likely is not a vector. She’s not sure the virus has changed, but rather people’s behavior. 

“People have let their guard down,” said Raimondo. “It’s human nature. We have to get back to following the rules and being strict about it.” The Convention Center field hospital has yet to be deconstructed; the governor postponed it a number of weeks with the rising COVID rates. She repeated she did not want to see a lockdown for the economic known effects, claiming you can’t borrow enough money to keep the economy afloat. The governor wants to see more testing and more compliance, with lockdowns possible around the holidays. Thanksgiving restrictions are due to be announced next week.

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