Start Planning for a Safe Thanksgiving: A summary of the governor’s October 21 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo and DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott gave the COVID-19 press briefing today.

At time of the presser, today’s data was not available for the Department of Health. Governor Raimondo and Dr. Alexander-Scott instead provided the data from yesterday, saying they were waiting for some final numbers before updating data for today. Yesterday’s data saw 156 new positive cases of the coronavirus. There are 135 people in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 16 are in the ICU, and 6 people in the ICU are on a ventilator. The percent positive test rate was 2.8% for yesterday. Hospitalizations are trending slightly downward at 94 new hospital admissions compared to 116 last week. The cases per 100,000 residents are at 149, well over the threshold of 100 the governor said they would use as a key metric.

Yesterday also saw five new fatalities, DOH did not disclose their ages or comorbidities. That brings the total deaths from COVID-19 to 1,164. 

The big news today is state officials again stressing people stay local for Thanksgiving. While offering no official prohibitions for the upcoming holiday season, the state provided guidelines today for a safe Thanksgiving. The governor said families should limit in-person gatherings, and find safer ways to celebrate like taking it outside or going virtual. 

Raimondo also said people should be extra vigilant and cautious about COVID two weeks prior to Thanksgiving and for a few weeks after. She advised people to get tests. “We learned a lot when we brought the students back to college,” said the governor. Dr. Alexander-Scott said if any one person in a household has symptoms, the entire household should stay home for Thanksgiving. Symptoms like loss of smell/taste, difficulty breathing and a dry cough are noticeable warning signs. 

Rhode Island is receiving a new, rapid test from the same company that produces the Abbot test. Called BinaxNOW, it will provide a result within 15 minutes, and Governor Raimondo said the state would receive 300,000 kits by the end of the year. Her team has put together a targeted plan of how to use them, prioritizing people in K-12 schools, colleges or high-density communities, and areas where there is a need for a speedy result.

Governor Raimondo and Dr. Alexander-Scott encouraged asymptomatic people to get tested. The governor had previously set a goal of 4,000 asymptomatic tests every week, and last week the state administered 3,500 tests to asymptomatics. Testing residents without symptoms is key to finding people spreading the virus without knowing it, and getting them into isolation to curb transmission. 

Dr. Alexander-Scott announced younger adults continue to be overrepresented in case data, totaling 21% of all cases for a week-long period in October. DOH is also seeing work-associated cases where employees are socializing outside the structured part of their work environment. 

During press questions today, Dr. Alexander-Scott revealed that over 50% of asymptomatic positive cases of COVID are in the population younger than 40. While the demographics of hospitalizations and COVID deaths remain among the most elderly or those with severe underlying conditions, DOH is seeing younger Rhode Islanders have no symptoms, but still spreading the virus invisibly. 

Governor Raimondo repeated that there was no widespread coronavirus spread in Rhode Island schools. According to the governor, the data in Rhode Island, and the world, shows that schools are safe. Raimondo also mentioned rates of COVID are higher among those that are distance learning, something she attributes to the structured environment in school. 

BTOWN reporter Bill Batholomew asked about police officers not wearing masks. Governor Raimondo said she knew and found it disappointing. She said she could imagine in the heat of the moment, police might forget to put their mask on, but said she doesn’t excuse it.