The number of COVID-19 cases in East Greenwich has nearly quadrupled since early October, after months of relative stability. After averaging 6.8 cases per week from March to October, EG had 50 cases the first week of November, a 632 percent increase, up from 8 cases Oct. 4-10 (find the data HERE, under “Municipal Case Trends”).
“It’s because we are out and about,” said EG resident and Rhode Island Hospital Emergency Department doctor Megan Ranney. “We are socializing and our kids are socializing. And because of that, we are being exposed to the virus. We did a great job following the rules in the spring. But now, many of us are engaging in occasional high-risk activities, like indoor dining, indoor parties or indoor sports.”
With Thanksgiving a little over a week away, the situation isn’t good.
Gov. Gina Raimondo is expected to issue additional restrictions at her weekly COVID-19 press conference on Wednesday but she can’t control what happens in peoples’ homes, although she has urged residents to confine Thanksgiving celebrations to the people they live with. Or to hold the meal outside if possible.
“I know it’s tough and I know it’s not what we want but Thanksgiving has the potential to seed thousands and thousands of new cases,” she said. Ranney said normally her family would gather with her parents and other extended family members in the area. Not this year, even though it’s a rare Thanksgiving Day off for her.
Depending on the weather, they might host her parents for an outdoor meal. Otherwise, it will just been Ranney, her husband and their two children.
Things were bad last spring, she said, but now it’s a different kind of bad.
“Our numbers are worse than they were during the surge in the spring and the difference is, we aren’t doing anything to stop it,” she said, referring to the hospital numbers.
“The trouble is, we just don’t have space in the hospital right now,” she said. Last spring, hospitals basically shut down all care except for COVID patients, Ranney explained. That was devastating for many people with other illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. “So, we’re trying to stay open,” she said. “But as a result, we don’t have any beds. Our waiting times are through the roof.”
Yet, many of us continue to behave as we did in September. Ranney said she thinks it’s hard for people to really comprehend why their behavior could be a problem.
“If you haven’t seen first hand how horrible this disease is, if you haven’t seen how it can take normally healthy people and make them very sick,” she said, it’s easy to minimize it. And, because of privacy regulations and fear of spreading the virus, the stories aren’t able to be told in the media as they might be after a devastating fire or hurricane.
“It’s difficult to the average person to imagine they might show up at the hospital and there literally might not be space,” Ranney said. At the same time, she didn’t want to scare off people who really need the sort of care an emergency department can deliver.
“It’s not that I don’t want people to show up. If they are sick they should come in. The last thing I want is for people to not come when they need care. I don’t want to see people dying at home because they are afraid to show up at the ER,” she said.
“We all need to take a look at what we’re doing now that we weren’t doing in the spring and paring back everything not essential.”
Ranney said we need to avoid indoor social gatherings and we need to wear masks with anyone we don’t live with.
“There’s no indoor activity that’s safe right now,” she said, adding “the risk is pretty low if you’re outside.”
So, how to do Thanksgiving safely?
If you have people over, sit at different ends of the table. Serve the turkey on different platters for the different households. Two bowls of mashed potatoes, two bowls of stuffing, two bowls of cranberries. Use separate sets of serving utensils too.
And hope for decent weather.
“We’re going to become hearty New Englanders this winter,” said Ranney. She said her 9-year-old son has spent more time outdoors the past few months than he ever has before because he isn’t allowed to play with his friends indoors. He has a fort in the woods – masks are required.
“This is a moment for change,” Ranney said. “We’ll see.”
You can check your risk for an activity by plugging basic information in the MyCOVIDRisk app HERE. It was developed by Ranney and her colleague Elizabeth Goldberg, M.D. Also, you can find a TON of data on the state Dept. of Health’s COVID-19 Response Data page HERE. You just need to dig a little. Thanks to David Caldwell for doing some digging for us.