Phase I Probably to Last Through May

by | May 15, 2020

Beaches won’t be open until after Memorial Day

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Rhode Island saw 203 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing the state’s total known cases to 12,219. The state also saw 11 deaths, all among people in their 60s and older. The past two days have seen more than 3,000 tests conducted – 3,679 reported on Thursday and 3,377 Friday. Rhode Island continues to be testing more people per capita than any other state in the country. The number of confirmed cases in East Greenwich – 59 – was last updated May 13. You can find all the most recent data on the state Dept. of Health’s data dashboard HERE.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said Phase I will last around four weeks – two weeks of the new normal followed by two weeks of data collection – at her press briefing Friday at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. While the governor had not mentioned a start date for Phase II before, she had indicated earlier in May the increments could be two weeks, not four. On Friday, she said the four weeks was not a change, but rather what was needed to really understand how the lifted restrictions were affecting the spread of the virus. 

The idea, she said, was to look at the following metrics to determine when to move forward or, if the data were to indicate, move back in terms of reopening: 

  • The percentage of open hospital beds.

The plan is to make sure every Rhode Islander is able to get health care and a hospital bed if needed, she said. “If we continue to see less than 70 percent of hospital beds filled with COVID patients then we know we’re on the right track.”

  • The number of new hospitalizations

A single-day spike in the number of hospitalizations would not lead to an immediate change in course, but an upward trend would be something to look at, she said. “Right now, it’s stable at around 30 new hospitalizations a day,” Raimondo said. “If we start seeing 50 to 60 new hospitalizations a day, then we may need to pause.”

  • The rate of spread

This is that R naught number – how many people does one person with the virus infect? In March, Raimondo said, the R naught in Rhode Island was between 3 and 4 – ”a scary place to be” – with the virus far outpacing mitigation efforts. Today, the state’s R naught is around 1 or even lower. “That’s a stable amount. We can handle that,” she said. “If the R value continues to be 1.1 or lower than we think it’s safe to continue to reopen.”

  • How quickly the number of hospitalizations doubles

Several weeks ago, Rhode Island was seeing a doubling of the number of hospitalizations every few days. “As long as it takes more than a month to see a doubling of hospitalizations, we feel confident we’re in a good place and we won’t see a surge,” Raimondo said.

“We look at it all in total. This is a guide,” she said, and it’s overlaid with an assessment of the state’s systems (testing, tracing, isolation supports, etc.).

“Our systems look great,” Raimondo said. “The systems we’ve developed are strong. They are in good shape.” She added, “I want to get to Phase II very early in June and Phase III by early July.”

But what about the beaches? Memorial Day weekend is a week away and beaches in several nearby states, including New York and Connecticut, are reopening for Memorial Day. Raimondo said they are still trying to figure out beaches but said she hoped they could reopen by the end of May or early June.

Raimondo called Narragansett Town Council’s decision to vote on allowing beaches and churches to reopen next week in defiance of state executive orders, “reckless.”

“It’s so selfish to all the people of Rhode Island who have worked so hard for so long … so we can all be safe. I feel so confident if we go slowly … you can get back to a good place. To jump the gun a couple weeks before we’re ready … is a huge risk.” 

She added, “I get people are frustrated. It’s my job to keep people safe.”

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Dept. of Health, said Friday the state would continue to use the Abbott ID Now test used at the CVS-Twin River testing site. The FDA announced yesterday it was going to look at accuracy issues with the test, which has had a higher false negative rate in some instances.

“We validated the Abbott tests at the state health lab when we started to use them,” said Alexander-Scott. She said the positivity rate at Twin River is about 11 percent, comparable to the rate at other tests. For now, she said, the benefit of the rapid test outweighed the test’s lower sensitivity. If you test negative but still have symptoms, she said, continue to isolate as if you’d tested positive.

Alexander-Scott said the Twin River site had identified 3,000 positive cases of COVID-19. “The key to staying in front of [the virus] … is being able to identify people who have COVID-19.” 

She also said the situation at the Adult Correctional Institutions – three inmates without symptoms tested positive – is different than at the federal Wyatt prison in Central Falls, which has seen a number of cases. For one, she said, they have tested staff and inmates (which is how they found the three positive cases) and they have isolated those inmates.

Lastly, Gov. Raimondo announced she will hold an Older Adults Facebook Town Hall on Thursday, May 21, at 11 a.m. with Secretary Robertson, the U.S. assistant secretary for Aging; Secretary Womazetta Jones of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Office of Healthy Aging Director Rose Jones; and several community advocates. Older adults and caregivers can submit questions through the Governor’s Facebook and Twitter pages, or by writing to [email protected]

There will be no COVID-19 press conferences over the weekend; the next conference will be Monday at 1 p.m. 

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