Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole-Alexander Scott encouraged testing in high-density areas during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press conference, while also announcing four new asymptomatic testing sites.
Raimondo said that cities such as Central Falls, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Providence had the highest rates of COVID-19 in the state, although positive test rates are on the decline. Statewide, about 2 percent of tests came back positive recently. Central Falls had 13 percent of tests positive on Wednesday, the highest in the state, but this is still lower than its 20 percent positive rate last month. Providence, Woonsocket and Pawtucket have all settled below 10 percent positive recently.
According to Raimondo, these communities are densely populated, have lower incomes than others and are home to many immigrants and people of color. She said that since many of the people there work in services like grocery stores or nursing homes or live in multigenerational or multi-family homes, she’s not surprised these communities are vulnerable.
This is why Raimondo said Rhode Island is heavily focused on testing in these communities. She said many contract tracers are multilingual in order to connect with these residents, and that the state is taking individualized approaches to outbreaks in different neighborhoods.
“We’re working closely with community health centers to bring testing where it’s most accessible to most people in many cases there,” Raimondo said. “We have created, and we continue to create as recently as today more walkthrough sites and drive-thru sites.”
Raimondo also announced that four new asymptomatic testing sites were being created in Stop & Shop parking lots. One site will be in Cranston, another in Pawtucket and two in Providence – one at 850 Manton Ave. and another at 333 West River St. Testing will take place on every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday. Raimondo said each testing center could test about 30 people a day.
Testing centers are also located at Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island, which can test up to 900 people a day. People with symptoms of COVID-19 such as a fever or cough, as well as asymptomatic close-contact workers such as gym employees, hairdressers, restaurant workers and public transportation workers, are encouraged to get tested.
As in previous briefings, Raimondo emphasized that Rhode Island’s numbers of new cases and deaths have been steadily declining, despite other states seeing the opposite. According to Raimondo, Rhode Island saw 49 new cases and 11 deaths in the latest data update. All of those who died recently were 70 years old or older. Alexander-Scott added that nine of the 11 deaths were linked with long-term care facilities, but she said overall nursing home death rates were declining.
Alexander-Scott also reported that 17 Rhode Islanders are being treated for COVID-19 in intensive care units, and 13 people are on ventilators.
Raimondo also said that by the end of the week, she expects 20 percent of Rhode Island’s population to have been tested. She explained that recently, only about 2 percent of Rhode Islanders have tested positive.
“We are testing more people per capita than anywhere in America, higher than many countries,” Raimondo said. “And our test positive rate is among the lowest in America. So that doesn’t mean the virus is gone. It just means we’ve gotten used to living with it and our results are very good.”
Raimondo also discussed what life in Rhode Island might look like after a vaccine or treatment for the virus is found. She said that although in-person events and large gatherings may happen, life in Rhode Island will never be exactly as it was before COVID-19. In particular, Raimondo mentioned how working from home, telehealth, distance learning on snow days and no more Division of Motor Vehicles lines may become more common.
However, Raimondo viewed some of these potential changes as positive adjustments that could help create more jobs and opportunities.
“I want you to start to get a little excited about the ways in which Rhode Island could be better in the future if we learn to apply the lessons that we’ve learned through this time,” Raimondo said. “And I would invite all of you to start thinking that way. It’s changed, this economy is forever changed. There’s going to be forever changes to retail, brick and mortar, forever changes to hospitality. And that’s scary to hear if you’re in that business, but what I want you to hear is, we’re going to embrace that change. We’re going to retrain you, we’re going to build on, we’re going to rebuild this economy bottom up and make it better, stronger and more jobs.”
Friday’s briefing will focus on phase three reopening guidelines, according to Raimondo. She plans to discuss large venues, weddings and capacity limits for restaurants and other gatherings at that time. Phase three of the state’s reopening plan is currently scheduled to begin in July if numbers remain low.