We’ve Turned a Corner: A summary of the governor’s December 22 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, DOA director Brett Smiley and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor gave the weekly COVID press briefing today at 1pm.

DOH reports 880 new cases of the novel coronavirus since yesterday, from around 12,000 tests taken yesterday. The positive test rate is 7.1%. There are 440 people hospitalized with the virus; 54 of those people are in the intensive care unit and 38 people are on ventilators. DOH reports eight additional deaths.

State officials noted while data was still high and the state still in the throes of dangerous community spread, all the weekly metrics are still on a decline. “We’ve turned a corner,” said the governor expressing some relief. She acknowledged that the test positive rate was still higher than they want to be, above 5%, but the rate is declining with each passing day.

Governor Raimondo reminded viewers to still be careful post-pause as the holidays approach. “Don’t gather indoors with people you don’t live with,” she said. She stressed the need for mask wearing around people you do not live with. Raimondo asked Rhode Islanders to make a plan to get tested twice before the end of year, once before Christmas and once after Christmas. Long wait times for a test and test results were a thing of the past, she assured, the system has plenty of capacity.

As announced last week, the state of Rhode Island has officially allocated all of the monies it received from the CARES Act in the spring. The governor spent some time today breaking down how state officials spent the stimulus funds. The state spent the biggest amount on business and economic supports, totalling $488.7 million. $424.6 million went toward state and municipal governments on personnel for COVID response. $129.3 million went toward the state’s COVID response infrastructure: testing, PPE, National Guard costs and any other costs. $116.8 million went toward K-12 and public higher education. $90.7 went toward individual supports like rental and housing assistance, food supports and cash assistance.

State leaders are relieved that a new relief package has passed through Congress. Gov. Raimondo stated she was most thrilled about the amount of money targeted for rental assistance for Rhode Islanders. President Trump has yet to sign the bill; Smiley said today it could be many weeks before his office figures out how much in dollars the state will receive as part of it. Smiley also noted that there was no aid specifically for state government and towns to plug holes in budgets.

In vaccine news, 4,200 Rhode Islanders have received the first dose of the COVID vaccines. The state was hesitant to announce how many doses and when it would receive them, but Raimondo did mention today that production would be cranked way up starting in the new year. Dr. Alexander-Scott estimated by the end of this week RI will have received at least 35,000 doses from both companies producing a vaccine. At least 5,000 of those doses are being set aside to specifically target workers and residents in nursing homes, who have been ravaged by the pandemic. Dr. Alexander-Scott said much of the vaccination plans were in broad strokes, but DOH was making strides in making distribution equitable. She repeated what Dr. Chan announced last week, that the plan was formulated based on assessed risk, and Central Falls would be considered a priority for vaccine distribution.

No press conference next week, the governor is giving people time off to enjoy the holidays. DOH will also not be updating the COVID data dashboard on Christmas/New Year’s Eves or Days. The next press conference is scheduled for January 7, the first Thursday in 2021.