RHODE ISLAND – On Wednesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo gave her weekly press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on Rhode Island, providing information on public schools and higher education. The governor also said that Rhode Island was being placed back on the travel advisory lists for Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, due to the number of new cases per 100,000 residents.
Raimondo also went over the new COVID-19 numbers for the week, reporting 121 new cases, bringing the total to 24,177. She also reported three new fatalities, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,102. The percentage of residents who tested positive the prior day is 1.5 percent. There were also 8,234 tests administered.
Eighty-six more residents were also hospitalized.
While new hospitalizations admissions showed a decline this week, the weekly percent positive went up from 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent.
“We continue to lose people every single day to COVID-19,” Raimondo said. “It’s a reminder to stay vigilant.”
Raimondo also partly attributed an increase in cases to an increase of tests being administered.
“If you test more, you will find more cases,” she said. “Not only are we testing more, but we’re testing in high density communities.”
Over last week, Raimondo said that nearly 200 students at Providence College and the University of Rhode Island have tested positive for COVID-19, which resulted in an increase in new cases.
The bulk of new cases came from PC, with 150 students testing positive, though 40 URI students also tested positive.
Raimondo said that the vast majority of new cases at PC came from off-campus gatherings. Though she said the gatherings weren’t large, students were found to be moving in and out of various groups, which resulted in an increased spread.
“There was no big party,” Raimondo said. “People were in relatively small groups, but their groups were not consistent and they weren’t wearing masks and they weren't practicing social distancing.”
After learning that the new cases at PC stemmed from off-campus gatherings, the Rhode Island Department of Health made the decision to test all students living off campus, with a stay-at-home order being issued to all students. Raimondo said that, while URI’s new cases were also the result of small, unstable gatherings, she said the numbers didn’t require the same campus-wide mitigation orders as PC.
The students who have tested positive are being set up in alternative housing in order to isolate, and their contacts placed into quarantine.
Raimondo said that all students who weren’t following the COVID-19 guidelines–such as social distancing, mask wearing and stable gatherings–were being “incredibly selfish.”
“The minute we let our guard down,” she said, “people get sick and bad things happen.”
The result of the spike in new cases on college campuses resulted, at least in part, to Rhode Island landing back on the travel advisory lists for Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
Raimondo said that the restrictions could negatively affect Rhode Island businesses who rely on interstate travel.
“It is my hope that we’ll be able to pretty quickly get off the list,” Raimondo said.
While colleges have seen various challenges, Raimondo said that the first week of schools for elementary and secondary students went relatively well.
All throughout the state, a total of 77 people tested positive, though the bulk of the new cases came from students and school staff who were participating in distance learning, not in-person learning.
“As of this Monday, including all cases since the start of school, 33 positive cases among students and school staff, who had been in school buildings,” Raimondo said. “Forty-four positive cases among students and school staff who have been learning virtually.”
Though there were positive cases among in-person students and staff, Raimondo said that RIDOH wasn’t seeing transmission within schools, due to COVID-19 mitigation procedures like contact tracing, isolating and symptom monitoring.
“At this point, we are not seeing transmission within schools,” she said. “We’re monitoring it very closely, we’re going to be very vigilant.”
But no matter what measures are put in place, Raimondo said, new cases are inevitable, with 15 percent of Rhode Island residents being associated in some way with the school system.
“We will continue to see cases, the key is that we contain the cases, so we don’t see new spikes and big outbreaks,” she said. “It suggests that our systems are working. The testing, the contract tracing, isolation, symptom monitoring.”
Raimondo also touched on ventilation in classrooms, and how departments are maintaining regular airflow. She said that there is more than one approach to ensuring regular airflow in classrooms, such as opening windows and using box fans or filters.
The key, Raimondo said, is making sure there are at least four air changes per hour. She directed anyone interested in learning more about ventilation, and how to achieve regular airflow, to visit health.ri.gov/airflow.