Outbreaks at Providence College and the University of Rhode Island have driven a recent uptick in the state’s COVID-19 numbers, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday, while the majority of cases identified within Rhode Island’s K-12 community during the first week of school occurred among distance learners and teachers.
Regarding the nearly 200 combined cases identified at PC and URI, the governor said: “Without those cases, our overall case numbers were stable, actually declining slightly, last week.”
Raimondo dedicated much of her weekly COVID-19 briefing to the college outbreaks, which have drawn widespread attention and, in the case of PC, resulted in a stay-at-home order for members of its community.
According to the governor, 150 positive cases were identified at PC, first through regular surveillance testing at the start of last week and then through Health Department testing of members of the off-campus community. She said many of the students to test positive live off campus, particularly on Eaton Street.
Contact tracing and investigation, Raimondo said, found the outbreak was not linked to a single large gathering but had instead been driven by movement of students among different houses and groups.
“There was no big party … People were in small groups, relatively small groups, but their groups were not consistent,” she said.
She added: “This is still an active outbreak. We’re working it every day. We’re not out of the woods yet. We do, though, have a handle on it.”
The URI outbreak, Raimondo said, has been much smaller in scope, resulting with about 40 cases in all. Three fraternity houses and other student residential settings have been linked to cases, she said, and like at PC, it is believed that student movement among small groups, rather than congregation in a single large group, pushed the spread of the coronavirus in Kingston.
The recent uptick in the state’s case count has resulted in renewed placement of Rhode Island on the travel restriction list for the Tri-State region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Raimondo said while she expects that status to be short-lived, it will have economic consequences for the Ocean State.
“This is hurting people’s business in Rhode Island … It’s not a joke. We’re hurting people because of our selfishness,” she said in remarks directed at college communities.
Regarding PC specifically, the governor said she believes the school’s administration has “gotten religion” on the importance of enforcing social distancing and other public health measures in off-campus settings.
“You must hold students accountable for their off-campus behavior … We’ve been crystal clear about that,” she said.
In terms of K-12 education, which is in the second week of reopening, Raimondo said the dedicated testing system set up for schools tested an average of 250 people per day last week. The system, she said, has the capacity to conduct 5,000 tests per day.
As of Monday, the governor said, there were 33 positive cases among students and staff who had been in school buildings and 44 cases among students and staff who are engaged in distance learning.
“The majority of the cases in the school community didn’t happen in a school building … At this point we are not seeing transmission within schools. We’re monitoring it very closely. We’re going to be vigilant,” she said.
She later added: “We’ve been at it a week, systems are working as intended, no outbreaks.”
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the 33 in-person cases were spread among 25 schools. In schools with multiple cases, she said, health officials typically identified a “common exposure outside of school” – siblings or friends each testing positive after time spent together, for example.
The state has also released new data on the Health Department’s website with case number ranges for the school communities in which positive tests have occurred. The figures show no positive cases among Warwick students or teachers.
* In terms of data, Wednesday’s update included 121 new positive cases identified among 8,234 tests, a positive rate of 1.5 percent. Raimondo called that a “good place to be” and “one of the lowest [rates] in America.”
Three more Rhode Islanders have died in connection with COVID-19, bringing the state’s toll to 1,102. Eighty-six people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Wednesday.
The Health Department updated its online data portal, highlighting three weekly metrics – percent positive, hospital admissions and new cases per 100,000 people – that Raimondo and Alexander-Scott said have been identified by experts as key indicators of that state’s position. In all three cases, Rhode Island remains well below the threshold at which new restrictions might be imposed.
Raimondo nonetheless advised that if circumstances required, she would impose “wholesale, statewide, across-the-board restrictions … including the possibility of moving back a phase.” * Raimondo announced another new online resource, found at health.ri.gov/airflow, that she said provides additional information regarding safe ventilation of indoor spaces * Asked about how Halloween will look in Rhode Island, Raimondo said she wants the “show to go on” but has yet to make any determination at this point. Alexander-Scott said health officials are developing “detailed guidance” on how to approach trick-or-treating.