PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Wednesday that the state’s COVID-19 infections are likely to increase, and she plans to provide more details on the state’s projections during her daily news conference on Thursday.
“We’re not in a downward slope, that I can assure you,” Raimondo said. “We have been successful in reducing how high the slope is, but we’re definitely not on a downswing.”
So far, 87 Rhode Islanders have died and 3,529 residents have tested positive since the first cases were detected in the state on March 1. That includes seven more deaths and 278 more positive cases reported Wednesday. There are 229 people hospitalized and 54 in the ICU, including 44 who are on ventilators.
During her news conference at the State House on Wednesday, Raimondo debuted a new COVID-19 data tracker, to be updated daily to show cases, fatalities, negative tests and hospitalizations.
There was no missing the graph on the right, showing a line veering sharply upward. That shows the dramatic increase in the number of people tested for coronavirus, spiking when the state opened drive-through test sites and CVS opened rapid-response testing outside Twin River Casino.
As of Wednesday, nearly 26,000 people had been tested for coronavirus.
Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said 66 of Rhode Island’s deaths from COVID-19 were residents at nursing homes. That includes six of the seven people whose deaths were reported Wednesday: one at Oak Hill Health and Rehabilitation Center, in Pawtucket, where 17 residents have died; three at Orchard View Manor, in East Providence, where 10 have died; two at Golden Crest Nursing Centre, in North Providence, where 23 have died.
Oak Hill center will now be used as a COVID-19 specialty nursing home for the state. Alexander-Scott confirmed Wednesday that health officials worked out an agreement to use Oak Hill as a central facility to accept patients who are discharged from the hospital and are COVID-19 positive, but no longer require acute care. At Oak Hill, the patients will be able to receive specialized rehabilitation and step-down, post-acute care while reserving hospital beds for patients who need acute-level care.
“They have the enhanced support that’s needed,” Alexander-Scott said in a conference call with reporters.
At Oak Hill, residents who do not have COVID-19 symptoms will be kept separate from those tested positive, according to a statement from Centers Health Care, which runs the facility. Staff caring for residents with COVID-19 will not be in contact with other residents, and staff working at Oak Hill will not work at other facilities.
“Oak Hill Center is proud to partner with Governor Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Health to help combat COVID-19,” said Kenny Rozenberg, CEO of Centers Health Care. “Oak Hill staff and leadership have been gearing up over the past few weeks, including bolstering hard-hit line staff and contracting an independent professional cleaning company to fully disinfect the facility. Together, we hope we can effectively reduce new infection rates among our most vulnerable population.”
Kaya Suner, a 19-year-old Providence resident came up with an idea to help ease isolation of elderly residents at nursing homes. He partnered with Rhode Island Medical Society to create COVIDconnectors.org to donate iPads, tablets, and iPhones to give to patients so they can connect with their loved ones, Raimondo said. Amazon also donated 540 tablets.
Raimondo announced that the state was working with CVS to fast-track testing system for health care workers at congregant settings, including nursing homes. For frontline health care workers, RIHavens.com connects people who need a safe place to quarantine with hotels that offer rooms at a lower rate.
The governor acknowledged the shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, who are reusing masks to conserve them. “That is not satisfactory. That’s not what we are trying to achieve, but it’s where we’re at today,” Raimondo said. "We are getting more masks, we are getting more gowns, we are trying to get our hands on N95 masks. ... It is a fight. It is a continual global daily fight, and we’re out there doing it.
“Are we managing? Yes. Are we getting by? Yes. Is it the crisis it was weeks ago? No,” she added.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at email@example.com