College Outbreaks Put RI on Travel Restriction Lists: A summary of the governor’s September 23 press conference

Gov. Gina Raimondo

Governor Gina Raimondo, DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and RIDE Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green gave the weekly COVID press briefing today at 1pm.

Today’s data is as follows: There are 121 new cases of COVID-19 and 86 people are hospitalized. Nine are in intensive care units and five people are on ventilators. Hospitalizations are trending downward this week, from 58 new hospitalizations last week down to 41 this week. DOH reports three additional deaths today, bringing the Ocean State’s total tally to 1,102 deaths. The state tested 8,234 people yesterday making the percent positive rate 1.5%. This is an 0.4% increase from last week’s percent positive.

The governor today addressed at length the outbreaks at higher education institutions in the past few weeks. Providence College and University of Rhode Island have seen outbreaks since the start of school. PC’s outbreaks stem from its infamous student parties on and around off-campus student housing around Eaton Street. While there was no single large party, students were (unsurprisingly) moving between floors of triple decker apartment buildings, moving between different buildings and not distancing. One hundred twenty students have been put into quarantine and isolation, and the outbreak is still ongoing. URI student cases were much more isolated, and required no campus-wide measures. DOH discovered at least 40 cases in Greek housing and other student housing related to URI. The governor stated today that colleges must hold students accountable for off-campus behavior. 

When asked by Motif what the asymptomatic numbers were like, Dr. Alexander-Scott answered that broadly the cases in higher education were more often asymptomatic than they were in the general population. Not as a total chunk, but relative to each other. She stressed again even if a person has no symptoms to continue to socially distance, wear a mask, and limit social gathering sizes. 

From these surge in cases, Rhode Island is back on travel restrictions lists. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey have placed travel restrictions on Rhode Islanders traveling to those three states. The tri-state area bases these regulations on number of cases per 100,000, and college student cases have put Rhode Island over the top. Rhode Island meanwhile stands alone in using its percent positive case metric of 5% or more to determining travel restrictions. Currently travelers from 27 states and the territory of Puerto Rico must comply with isolating and other restrictions before coming to the Ocean State.

Department of Business regulation inspectors saw high compliance with COVID regs this past weekend. Employee and customer mask-wearing was observed at 97% of the 1,000 businesses surveyed. Ninety-nine percent of businesses were complying with capacity restrictions, and 93% had proper social distancing. Ninety-three percent of bars had customers separated from their bartenders, and 98% of businesses surveyed had no crowding at the bar area. Eighty-eight percent of businesses were conducting health screenings of staff and customers.