Virus Could Peak May 3 w/’Good’ Social Distancing

by | Apr 16, 2020

No decision on schools yet; latest numbers

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The latest numbers show 309 new confirmed cases for a total of 3,838 cases in Rhode Island. There were 18 new deaths – 9 from yesterday and 9 from previous days – all of them people in their 70s and older and all of them residents of nursing homes. The number of cases in East Greenwich increased by 2, to 18. Find all the data on the Dept. of Health website HERE.

On Thursday, Gov. Gina Raimondo unveiled the long-anticipated model on when the number of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island will peak, offering  May 3 under a lower blue line curve as the date if residents are “good, not perfect, but good” at social distancing, and April 27 under a steeper red line curve if social distancing were to break down. 

The distance between the two dates is only a week, but the number of hospital beds and resulting deaths nearly doubles under the earlier-peak scenario. 

With a May 3 peak, the model says the state would need 2,250 hospital beds – a number that could be absorbed by the state’s existing health care system. With an April 27 peak, we’d need 4,300 beds. The number of COVID-19 deaths (calculated through October) is estimated at  2,120 with a May 3 peak; 4,015 with an April 27 peak. 

“I don’t think we’re going to be the red line,” Raimondo said. “The biggest difference … is the degree to which we obey the stay-at-home social distancing order.”

The model looked a lot worse 10 days ago, she said, showing a possible need for 6,000 to 7,000 hospital beds. It’s improved because of the social distancing people in the state have been doing. 

Still 4,300 hospital beds is beyond normal capacity, which is the reason for the field hospitals being set up in Providence, Cranston and North Kingstown. 

“Because of you, I don’t think we’re going to see that red line,” Raimondo said. “We could do even better than the blue line. I am working to beat that blue line. I hope in a couple of weeks, I can come back to you … and say, ‘Way to go Rhode Island!’”

Raimondo also said at her daily press conference Thursday she was not ready to make a decision on schools and distance learning. Right now, the state is scheduled to continue distance learning through April. 

“I’m going to hold off on that until probably next week,” she said. “This is a huge decision.” 

Acknowledging that teachers, administrators, students and families would like to know what’s going to happen, she said, “I need a little more time to look at the evidence…. I’m not ready to throw in the towel on school yet.”

Both Raimondo and Dept. of Health’s Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott addressed the mention of Rhode Island as a growing hot spot during President Trump’s press conference Wednesday. Rhode Island has the eighth highest number of deaths per capita in the country (see link HERE).

“We have higher numbers of seniors and we have a dense population,” said Alexander-Scott. Raimondo said Rhode Island was also testing two to three times more people than in Connecticut and Massachusetts. She said Trump health advisor Dr. Deborah Birx had been very responsive to Rhode Island’s needs.

“She’s appropriately focused on Rhode Island because we’re in a region that’s being hit hard,” Raimondo said.

Finally, when asked about large festivals like those held in Newport each summer, Raimondo said the situation was “very fluid. It is hard to see where we’ll be in July.” 

But then she added, “From where I sit today… it’s hard to see how we would be able to allow large concerts, large gatherings. We’re going to be relying on social distancing for many months to come. [Large festivals] are the sorts of events that will be the last to come on line.”

She offered a glimpse into how the economy will reopen, with businesses having regular sanitizing, fewer people allowed in restaurants, changes in the way workers are scheduled so they work with the same group of people from shift to shift, and things like wearing masks and temperature checks at the start of a shift.

“Until we have a treatment and a vaccine we’ll always be exposed to another spike” of the virus, she said. The restrictions will be tailored industry by industry.

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