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Raimondo: After ‘pause,’ RI has ‘turned the corner’

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Positive trends in the state’s latest COVID-19 data show the three-week “pause” that ended Sunday was the “right call,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday during her final briefing of 2020.

“We have turned the corner,” the governor said, calling recent test positivity rates a “very significant improvement from where we were a month ago,” and a “much safer place to be.”

Still, Raimondo reprised a now-familiar caveat that the state “cannot just flip the switch and go back to life as usual.” While Tuesday’s briefing brought no changes or new restrictions, she urged Rhode Islanders to keep social circles small – and to take advantage of increased testing opportunities – during and after the holidays.

“The name of the game is … protect your household, stick with your household,” she said.

Tuesday’s data update from the Rhode Island Department of Health showed 880 new cases identified among 12,445 additional tests, a positive rate of 7.1 percent.

Four more Rhode Islanders have died after contracting the coronavirus, bringing the state’s toll to 1,678. As of Tuesday’s update, 440 people across the state were hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Weekly data comparisons show clear signs that the state’s standing has improved in the weeks since a new surge in cases prompted the governor’s “pause.”

The percent positive rate as identified by the state stood at 6.4 percent last week, down from 7.8 percent the week prior.

“I have a bit of relief looking at that percent positive that it’s going in the right direction,” Raimondo said, while adding that the rate must reach 5 percent before she will consider easing any restrictions.

New hospital admissions were down slightly, from 454 to 430, over the same period, while the number of new cases per 100,000 residents during that timeframe dropped significantly, from 791 to 594.

Raimondo directly credited the “pause” for the improvements, saying the additional restrictions it carried “allowed us to stabilize the situation.”

Asked about the status of the field hospital locations in Cranston and Providence, Raimondo did not have current occupancy figures. While new hospital admissions have slowed, she said the field facilities will remain operational for the foreseeable future.

“There’s no world in which I see closing a field hospital anytime soon … The reality is we’re going to have patients in there in a while,” she said.

Elsewhere during Tuesday’s briefing:

The latest update from the Department of Health showed 6,400 people in the state have been administered the first dose of Pfizer’s  COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re on our way now,” the governor said regarding the vaccine rollout. “This is the beginning of the end.”

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the state was expecting to received its first shipment of the vaccine from Moderna – which, like Pfizer’s offering, has received emergency use authorization from the FDA – on Tuesday. She said the state expected 19,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by week’s end, which would bring Rhode Island’s combined stock of both vaccines to 35,000. * Raimondo urged all Rhode Islanders to “make a plan to get yourself tested twice between now and the end of the year,” whether experiencing symptoms or not.

Alexander-Scott said www.portal.ri.gov remains the quickest and preferred way to schedule a test, while pop-up testing sites at the Warwick Mall and other locations – which “saw a lot of demand” over the weekend – are meant to accommodate shoppers and “meet people where they are.”

Raimondo added: “At this point, there’s no excuse not to get a test … It’s free, it’s quick, it’s painless, and you’ll know.” * Raimondo provided a brief outline of how the state spent its $1.25 billion in aid from the federal CARES Act.

The largest amount, $488.7 million, went toward business and economic support, the governor said – and roughly half went to hospitals to provide relief after elective procedures were halted for a time earlier this year.

Another $288.1 million supported state government operations, while $136.5 million went to municipalities. The public health response to the crisis – including the field hospitals, testing, contact tracing and PPE – utilized $129.3 million of the funding.

Another $116.8 million went to support K-12 education, while $90.7 million supported assistance for individuals, including cash assistance, food, and housing and rental assistance.

Raimondo acknowledged critics who have called for more aid to businesses, but said Rhode Island has spent significantly more on that front that neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“Having said that, I would be the first to say it’s not enough,” she said, adding: “I know it’s cold comfort to know we’ve done more than other states … 2021 is around the corner, and let’s make it the best yet, particularly next summer.” * Raimondo and Director of Administration Brett Smiley said officials are continuing to determine how much additional assistance Rhode Island will receive through the new stimulus agreement in the nation’s capital.

“We’re still trying to figure that out … We are in the process of digging through it,” the governor said, adding that she is particularly pleased with the prospect of the state getting a “substantial amount of money” to support rental assistance. * Asked about an apparent new, significantly more transmissible strain of the coronavirus that has been detected in the United Kingdom, Alexander-Scott said officials are monitoring the situation.

“It doesn’t change any of the action steps that we can take … The response to it stays the same,” she said.

Raimondo said she is not inclined at this point to pursue new travel bans related to the new strain of the virus, but said her administration will follow CDC guidance as it is updated.

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