Governor Gina Raimondo and DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott held a special COVID press briefing today at 1pm.
“There are way more cases than we want there to be,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. COVID rates surge in the Ocean State — that was the theme of the special press conference state officials held today. DOH has reported 482 positive cases of the COVID-19 virus since yesterday. The test positive rate was 3.3% of over 14,500 tests given. There are 152 people hospitalized, doubling the number since three weeks ago. Fifteen people are in the intensive care unit, and nine of those people are on ventilators. There were six additional COVID-related fatalities today, bringing the state’s total deaths to 1,201. According to Dr. Alexander-Scott, of the six deaths today, two people were in their 50s, one person was in their 60s, two were in their 70s and one person was in their 90s. While younger people are making up the newer infections, overwhelming it is older, more vulnerable Rhode Islanders who are dying and making up new hospital admissions.
Governor Raimondo painted a grim portrait of the situation in Rhode Island today as it appears the state may be in the beginning of a second wave. As a result she announced today two rounds of restrictions are coming — one round announced today, the other will be announced Thursday. With an eye on the holidays the governor said she was trying to use specific, targeted restrictions to avoid a complete and total lockdown. Raimondo said the state could not afford to go through another big economic contraction from shutting down entirely. As a result, she is avoiding a shelter in place order but lowered the social gathering limit to 10 people.
“It’s friend gatherings,” said the governor. “The enemy is familiarity in a weird way. You let your guard down around people you know.”
Raimondo mentioned ahead of the Halloween weekend, state police would be tripling their presence, and the Department of Business Regulation would be out inspecting businesses to ensure compliance with mask wearing, distancing and all other COVID regulations. The governor stressed quite adamantly they would be enforcing fines when they found people culpable for breaking the law. Social gatherings are one of the areas where the state is seeing outbreaks. Raimondo noted that when analyzing case data, the average party size investigators were uncovering was around 23 people. Dinner parties, baby showers, family parties, BBQs — these were a few of the common gatherings the governor said was causing outbreaks.
Raimondo gave the example of a high school party in Middletown. About 20 teenagers attended, possibly more. As a result, there have been 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 stemming from that party, it’s impacted four separate school districts, and up to 1,000 people may need to be quarantined as a result of that one party. State officials also said that a team of epidemiologists were involved in that one gathering, noting how social gathering investigations can use up state resources.
New restrictions on school sports are coming down. No more spectators will be allowed at sporting events for the next two weeks, with some exceptions carved out for the youngest players. Raimondo said she was hoping this would be a temporary restriction, and after the two weeks everyone could enjoy the playoffs and the rest of the season. Some of the data shared by Dr. Alexander-Scott today revealed that one-third of sports-related cases are coming from hockey, with other big spreaders being baseball, football and soccer. While there have been only 96 confirmed cases from sports, as a result of them, 970 people have had to be quarantined, isolated and tested. The doctor stressed again it’s not about cases for the restrictions, but the resources it pulls from the system when outbreaks occur.
All indoor sports venues, such as ice rinks, will be closed by the state next week. The governor is hoping to get her team with owner operators to determine a safe way to reopen them to curb COVID transmission. The governor noted there was no guarantee that these indoor arenas would reopen within a week if a safe reopening plan could not be determined.
Other restrictions may be coming. Raimondo advised faith leaders to offer and encourage virtual services, telling people if they have to go in person “show up, worship and go home.” New restrictions on visitations to hospitals and nursing homes will be announced next week. The governor also asked restaurants and shops to enforce mask wearing on customers and patrons. The governor noted masks should only be taken off if eating or drinking, not when ordering at food service places. Carpooling, especially in local manufacturing, is an issue tied to a rise in COVID cases. If they were wearing masks with windows open, the risk would be lowered. But as the governor mentioned many times, the disease is spreading rapidly when Rhode Islanders let their guard down. She also stressed employers should let employees work from home whenever possible.
Governor Raimondo also encouraged people to cancel any planned Halloween parties and avoid gathering in large groups. Trick or treating is for smaller children and isn’t cancelled, but Raimondo realizes Halloween, Election Night and Thanksgiving are poised to be superspreader events in the Ocean State.
Additionally, RIDOH is hiring a horde of new contact tracers. Anyone interested should go to health.ri.gov/covidjobs to apply. After putting out the call on Wednesday’s presser, the state got 100 people to sign up, with the governor hoping more people will sign up today.