Above: Spectators have already been limited at sporting events this fall like this at this soccer game Oct. 10. Now, for at least the next two weeks, no spectators will be allowed.
Social groups cut from 15 to 10; no HS sports spectators; tighter visitation limits at nursing homes
DATA: There were 482 new confirmed cases yesterday, with 14,562 tests run, for a 3.3 percent positivity rate. Six people died from virus-related illness. There are 152 people hospitalized with COVID-19; 15 are in intensive care and 9 are on ventilators. East Greenwich has seen a total of 208 confirmed cases. Follow all the data on the state Dept. of Health’s website HERE.
Gov. Gina Raimondo Friday laid out a series of relatively small changes in the state’s COVID-19 regulations in hopes of preventing the type of larger shutdowns implemented last spring.
“We are 1 million people strong. It is our moment to rise above and turn the dial down on this virus,” Raimondo said. “We have gone through the data extensively…. It’s pretty clear where the problems are coming from and what the trends are.”
She said her announcements were meant to be targeted, to keep commerce open as much as possible, and to keep kids in school. Most of the changes would be in effect for two weeks.
Starting today, the number of people allowed at social gatherings is down to 10 from 15; spectators will not be allowed at most youth sporting events; visiting will be tightened at nursing homes and hospitals; indoor sports facilities will close for one week; and houses of worship are encouraged to facilitate virtual worship.
“Right now, right in this moment, it’s a call to action,” Raimondo said. “The enemy is familiarity …. You let your guard down when you’re with friends.”
She reiterated the message she and other officials have been hitting hard in recent weeks: everyone needs to wear their mask with anyone they don’t live with. That means with close friends. That means at restaurants any time you are not eating or drinking.
But she stopped short of calling for closure of any businesses other than those indoor sports facilities. Raimondo did say from now on, shop and store owners will now need to tell customers not wearing a mask to put one on. She recommended businesses have extra masks on hand to distribute.
Raimondo said contact tracing had found the average size of gatherings that result in transmission has been 23 to 25 people in recent weeks. While reducing the number from 15 to 10 may seem ineffectual, it is meant to be a “signal,” Raimondo said.
“I think if we’re all honest with each other, we’re not all following the rules in casual settings,” she said. “In events greater than 10 we’re seeing the biggest problems.”
She noted the types of events where infections have been linked to – everything from birthday parties to baby showers to game nights. Raimondo mentioned a recent teen party in the East Bay of at least 25 people (state officials are still investigating) where 12 cases of COVID-19 have been identified so far. Because attendees came from different towns, four school districts have been affected (it prompted the closure of Middletown High School) and hundreds of people will end up needing to quarantine.
“Because of that party, the lives of hundreds of Rhode Islanders have been affected,” she said.
The state will pursue violators more aggressively, with fines of up to $500 per person over the 10 person limit.
Sports can continue but spectators won’t be able to attend for the next two weeks, except in the case of teams with very young children where a parent could attend. Raimondo said high school sports teams will be moving into fall playoffs in a couple of weeks and she wanted to ensure they would be able to finish their seasons.
Because virus cases have been linked back to indoor sports facilities and hockey rinks, those will be closed for at least the next week, during which time the owners will be working with the state Dept. of Health to develop stricter protocols.
Raimondo urged employers to let people work from home if possible. She asked them to work with their employees who carpool. Carpoolers need to keep windows partially open and everyone in the car needs to wear a mask, even close friends. The government is making $5 million available for businesses who need help outfitting their workers with equipment to be able to work from home through commerceri.com.
Nursing home visits
The governor said she would be limiting the number of visitors to nursing homes and hospitals because, even though more younger people are getting the virus, it’s the older people and those with underlying health conditions who are ending up in the hospital.
Raimondo said she knew it was tough to limit visitors. “We will make exceptions for certain circumstances – find the balance between what is humane and necessary but also avoid outbreaks.”
It’s all about the hospitalizations
The governor focused on the need for Rhode Islanders to understand if residents don’t take action and become more disciplined, hundreds more people could end up in the hospital. Again, it’s not about the number of people hospitalized right now (152 people for COVID-19 today) but rather the rate of increase in those hospitalizations. According to Raimondo, the state has doubled the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past three weeks. If infections continue at this rate, that number would continue to double and, she said, the state would need to open up the 300-bed field hospital set up in Cranston.
“Currently we’re on a path to open that up in a few weeks,” said Raimondo. “It’s a lot of pain and suffering we could avoid if we all decide to make some changes now. We all have a moment right now … to save lives.”