PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The number of Rhode Islanders becoming infected with the coronavirus and dying from associated causes is rising rapidly each day -- but the worst is yet to come.
That was the message Thursday from Governor Gina M. Raimondo, who grew circumspect as she answered a question about when Rhode Island can expect to see a surge of cases -- and what that will look like.
While saying the state’s predictive model was a “work in progress,” the governor said Rhode Island likely will see its highest rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from late April to late May. Then she revised that projection, saying it could be mid-April to mid-May.
As in, as soon as next week. The exact slope of the curve “is really difficult to say,” she said.
“I’m reluctant to put models out there that I don’t have confidence in and cause a panic,” Raimondo said during her daily briefing at the State House. State health officials need more data, and they are still looking at the effects of the stay-at-home order put in place last month.
What she knows: “We are going up the curve. There’s going to be a lot more people sick.”
And there are. Eight Rhode Islanders died overnight and 277 more tested positive, Raimondo said. The latest deaths include a person in their 20s who lived in a group home and had underlying health conditions, two people in their 80s, and people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Health Department.
That means that 43 Rhode Islanders have died and 1,727 people have tested positive since the first case was reported on March 1. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is now at 160, a steady increase, with 45 people in the ICU.
The number of people who have tested positive has more than doubled in a week, in part because Rhode Island has finally expanded its testing beyond health care workers, people in congregant care, and nursing home residents. Those who have symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness cause by the coronavirus, are now getting tested.
Rhode Island has doubled the number of people tested in one day. Thanks to the new rapid testing site started Monday by CVS at Twin River Hotel Casino parking lot, and three drive-through sites run by the National Guard that launched last week, there were 1,800 tests performed on Wednesday. (Thunderstorms and high winds forced the outdoor test sites to close Thursday afternoon.)
That’s one increase that Raimondo and Alexander-Scott said they are glad to see. They wished they could do more. But, Raimondo said, there is a “massive shortage of supply” leaving Rhode Island fighting for resources, including test kits for the rapid-testing machines.
Still, this was progress, she said.
“We are testing twice as many people a day per capita than Massachusetts. It’s a key component of what’s going to allow us to get back to work,” Raimondo said. “At 1,800 to 2,000 a day, we are getting closer to some semblance of normalcy.”
As a sign of the “new normal,” Raimondo said she is signing an executive order to make her directive on quarantine clearer.
There are 2,243 people under quarantine in Rhode Island, which means they cannot leave their property. That goes for people who test positive for coronavirus, those who have been in contact with someone who tested positive, as well as anyone traveling from out-of-state and staying in Rhode Island.
The quarantine lasts for 14 days. Under Raimondo’s order, those who violate it can be subject to civil penalties and a series of fines. “This is as important as any other law,” she said, adding that she had spoken with police departments and the attorney general’s office.
Those who have the coronavirus must isolate themselves within their homes, away from other people, during the quarantine, Alexander-Scott said. The isolation must last at least seven days once the symptoms begin, and cannot end until the person is free of fever and any other symptoms, without medication, for at least three full days.
The rate of the spread is accelerating in Rhode Island, as is the number of deaths. The state Department of Health is categorizing those deaths as “associated with COVID-19."
Most of those who have died so far -- 29 of the 43 fatalities -- have lived in nursing homes, particularly Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence and Oak Hill Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Pawtucket.
Health care workers are also at high risk for infection. As of Wednesday, 256 health care workers had tested positive for coronavirus, according to Health Department data.
The Rhode Island Health Care Association, which represents 64 nursing homes, is calling for an additional $1,000 per week in hazard pay for workers. Raise the Bar on Resident Care, a coalition of nursing home employees, union members, activists, and residents, said nursing homes are under-staffed and workers are under tremendous stress. They urged support of legislation sponsored by Providence Representative Scott Slater and Senator Maryellen Goodwin to raise wages for nursing home caregivers and establish standards for resident care.
Alexander-Scott said she recognized the critical need in nursing homes. The state is working to get more people into the health care field, she said, including speeding up the process to become certified nursing assistants.
The State House was lit red last weekend to honor first responders. Raimondo said she wanted to thank other people who are also essential workers: health care workers, bus drivers, custodians, construction workers, grocery store workers, and parents juggling work and distance-learning with their children.
“Every single one of you truly is a hero," Raimondo said. “You are my partner in this, and together we are carrying Rhode island through this crisis.”