Raimondo announces extension of Phase III, benchmarks for reopening schools
RHODE ISLAND — While Rhode Island may be faring better than most when it comes to infection rates, investigations into recent upticks have revealed a lack of compliance — especially when it comes to social gatherings.
“We’re partying too much,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said on Wednesday at her weekly press conference. “Social gatherings are too large, and folks aren’t wearing their masks.”
This became crystal clear, according to Raimondo, thanks to contact tracing data. The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) has been able to trace thousands of cases back to large gatherings of 25 people or more — from outdoor barbecues, birthday parties and baby showers, to pool parties and banquets — where friends and family members have ignored social distancing guidelines and weren’t wearing masks.
For each one of these parties, the governor said the department of health is finding seven to 10 positive cases of COVID-19, which usually aren’t detected until two or three weeks later.
“If you’re doing this, I need you to knock it off,” Raimondo said. “People are getting sick, people are dying, and it’s unnecessary.”
Although it’s summer and everyone’s looking to have a good time, Raimondo said our “right to party should not infringe on [someone else’s] right to live.”
Every day, Rhode Islanders are dying because of this virus.
On Wednesday, RIDOH announced two new fatalities, bringing the statewide number of COVID-19-related deaths to 1,007.
Sixty-one new cases were also announced on Wednesday, bringing the statewide total number of positive cases to 18,800. Based upon the number of people tested the day before, which was 3,354, Rhode Island’s current percentage of those testing positive is 1.8 percent.
Earlier this summer, less than one percent of those being tested were testing positive, and the rate of infection has also jumped up slightly.
This slight spike has forced Raimondo to extend Phase III of reopening Rhode Island, which was set to expire today. Rhode Island will continue under Phase III for at least another 30 days, though the governor is now only allowing social gathering of 15 people or less, as opposed to 25.
“Take it seriously,” she said. “Social gatherings above that level are the source of many of our positive cases.”
All other guidelines will stay the same, but Raimondo warned that they’ll be cracking down on restaurants and bars that are not following the rules.
By and large, most restaurants are following guidelines, but those who aren't could potentially hurt everyone else. If things don’t get better, Raimondo said she’ll have to reduce capacity.
How Rhode Islanders behave today will determine if it’ll be safe to reopen schools and start sending more people back to work in the weeks ahead.
Although there’s been some recent upticks, Rhode Islanders are still doing better than most when it comes to containing the vitrus, Raimondo said, and sending kids back to school on Aug. 31 is a possibility. Current guidelines at childcare facilities, which reopened earlier this summer, have helped prevent children from getting sick, she added, giving her and the department of health confidence that prevention and risk management is possible.
“At the end of the day, this will be about choice,” Raimondo said. “We will never force a parent to force their children to be in school. Every district will have to have high-quality distance learning, virtual programs.”
“Our job, though, is to make it that you’re confident enough to send the kids to school,” she added.
Five benchmarks will need to be met for students to be welcomed back into the classroom.
The first will deal with statewide readiness, and how Rhode Islanders are doing with following health and safety guidelines. If the state is not in Phase III or better, students will not be going back to school.
Each district could vary, according to Raimondo, because RIDOH and the Rhode Island Department of Education will also be looking at municipal readiness. Reopening schools in Central Falls, which has some of the highest case numbers in the state, may look very different in more rural, less densely packed communities.
Schools will also have to have testing readiness, with results rapidly available to students, teachers and staff within 48 to 72 hours. As of late, testing results in Rhode Island, on average, have not been coming back this quickly. Having rapid results will be important to letting a student or teacher know when they can come back to the classroom.
Each school will have to show supply readiness, having ample face mask coverings for students and staff, cleaning supplies, hand soap and hand sanitizer.
By the end of the week, each district will also have to provide their plans for reopening on www.backtoschoolri.com, and begin proving their operational readiness. Plans will have to be vetted by RIDE and RIDOH, and districts will have to show that they’re able to switch to distance based learning on a dime, in the case of an outbreak.
In the coming weeks, plans for a single district could change multiple times, according to RIDE Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and will need to be flexible as new information becomes available.
Parents will have a better idea of what school will look like for their child come Aug. 17, according to Infante-Green, when a final determination will be made.
For the past few weeks, districts and charter schools have been putting together plans for a full, in-person return, partial and limited in-person returns, and full virtual distance returns. Parents may have options to opt for a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning, or may choose to have their children continue learning from home if they still do not feel safe with school reopening plans.