Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo said, “I am not going to be” President-Elect Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary. The Providence Journal / David DelPoio
DATA: The state’s COVID-19 positivity rate was 6.9 percent this past week, up from 6 percent last week and 1.7 percent in early October. There were 410 people hospitalized with COVID-19 Wednesday, up from the low 100s in early October. At the peak of the virus spread last spring, there were 377 people in the hospital with COVID-19. The highest number of fatalities due to the virus happened in late April, when the state twice had 24 deaths in a single day. On Wednesday, 9 people died from COVID-19-related illness. So, we have more people in the hospital but fewer deaths due, primarily due to more knowledge of the illness and improved treatments. In East Greenwich, there were 71 new virus cases Nov. 22-18, down slightly from the 77 the week before, but way up from the single digit increases two months ago. Find all the data on the RI Dept. of Health’s data hub HERE.
Four days into Rhode Island’s two-week “pause,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday there were signs people are reducing their activity but noted two field hospitals have opened and the number of people needing hospitalization continues to increase.
“For those of you who doubt that we have a crisis, I hope this data is jarring to you and motivates you to take action,” she said during her weekly COVID-19 press conference. She also addressed rumors that President-Elect Joe Biden was considering her to lead the federal Health & Human Services agency.
“I am not going to be Biden’s nominee for HHS,” she said. “My focus is right here in Rhode Island.” She declined to comment further.
The total number of cases this week is down slightly but Raimondo said she thought that was a reflection of fewer people getting tested over the long holiday weekend. Still, other indicators were hopeful.
“The early data suggest people are following the rules,” she said. For one thing, the state’s COVID enforcement unit did not receive a single call about large parties this past week. And 99 percent of restaurants and bars were closing early and had all customers seated.
She also noted traffic data showed people were moving around less.
“We know mobility is a good indicator of cases,” said Raimondo. “There’s been a significant decline starting last Wednesday.”
While traffic usually declines over Thanksgiving, this year it declined more than last year. And, the governor said, the decrease has continued even more since Monday.
“My biggest concern right now is hospital overload,” Raimondo said. As of the press conference, there were 7 patients at the Cranston field hospital (with 20 more expected by the weekend) and 21 patients at the Providence field hospital (with another 40 to 50 expected in coming days).
While lamenting the need to use them, Raimondo praised the temporary hospitals.
“The quality of our field hospitals is about as good as it gets,” she said. “I do want to give you some assurance in case you or one of your loved ones ends up in a field hospital.”
That said, Raimondo put out an urgent call to those in the healthcare field who are not working (retired, working in another field, etc.) to consider going to work at one of the state’s hospitals, nursing homes, or field hospitals.
If your health care license has lapsed, the Dept. of Health is issuing temporary licenses. Go to SkillsForRI.com.
“Raise your hand to serve in any way that you can – we need you,” she said.
Raimondo said the state was also looking for people without health-care experience to help in other ways. “We’re really in the thick of it right now, it’s an all-hands-on-deck effort,” she said. “You’ll be doing good things to save lives in Rhode Island.”
If that’s you, go to RIResponds.org.
On the testing front, Raimondo said capacity continues to grow. She encouraged anyone with symptoms to reach out to their doctor or to go straight to the DOH portal HERE. She also said people without symptoms should get tested, especially those in jobs that bring them into contact with other people, such as restaurants, salons, and manufacturing facilities.
“We have a lot of capacity,” Raimondo said. “Please go get tested if you haven’t.”
Raimondo said the first batch of vaccinations should hit the state by mid-December and that it will be “very limited” initially but would ramp up in coming months. She said residents should feel comfortable about getting vaccinated because the FDA was following the same standards they follow for every vaccine.
While officials like infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci have said it’s unnecessary, Rhode Island and other states are doing their own vaccine data reviews. “We have our own team of experts in R.I. combing through that data … double, triple checking to make sure that this is safe before we administer a single dose,” Raimondo said.
While the vaccination process is complicated, she said her administration has been working on the roll out for a while. “We are on this,” she said. “We’ve got it covered, we’re working on it and we have a plan.” But, “this is not a flip of the switch.”
She added, “Help is definitely on the way. These vaccines are highly effective and highly safe. But they’re going to trickle into Rhode Island over the coming months. For [many] of us, it’s going to be many months before we’re all vaccinated with two shots. We all need to settle in for months more of being careful, mask wearing and following the rules.
“We’re going to have a fantastic summer,” she said. “I feel confident saying that by late spring, early summer we are going to be back on track.”