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R.I. governor blames students at two colleges for the state’s rise in cases and positivity rate

Raimondo says students at Providence College and URI are “hurting people because of selfishness”

Governor Gina M. Raimondo speaks on the state's response to the coronavirus.Kris Craig/pool photo/The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE -- Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Wednesday the outbreaks of COVID-19 at two college campuses led to a rise in cases and the state’s overall positive rate last week.

The increases are still below the threshold where the governor would impose greater restrictions on businesses. The positive rate rose from 1.1 percent last week to 1.4 percent this week. There are 73 new cases per 100,000 people this week, compared with 54 last week. Only new hospitalizations have fallen slightly over the past week, from 58 to 41.

However, the increases caused officials in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey to add Rhode Island to its list of states whose residents must quarantine if they visit those three nearby states.

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Raimondo singled out Providence College and the University of Rhode Island, which are responding to outbreaks on their campuses.

“This is hurting people’s businesses in Rhode Island," Raimondo said. "It’s not a joke. We’re hurting people because of our selfishness. Following the rules matters.”

There were no big parties to blame, she said. The outbreaks began with small groups of people, who then got together with other people but didn’t practice social distancing or wear masks.

“These are college students doing what college students do -- hanging out with their friends,” Raimondo said. “It’s not safe this year.”

Providence College is now reporting 151 positive cases, including two staff members. There are 144 students in isolation and 255 students in quarantine. The college has transitioned to full remote-learning at least until Sept. 26, when it will reevaluate the situation. All of the students are under a stay-at-home order, with 120 students now in alternative housing to isolate and quarantine.

The University of Rhode Island now has 60 positive cases and 486 people in isolation or quarantine. More than 100 members of two sororities and a fraternity were ordered to quarantine after a handful of members tested positive.

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The university has set up isolation rooms for the students, so they don’t return home and possibly spread the virus.

“We have the situation under control. We have housing, we have food delivery,” Raimondo said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, but we have it under control.”

For younger students, those in high school and elementary school, it was a different story. Last week was the first week of the fall semester, and all but Providence and Central Falls are allowed to have full in-person learning.

The mandatory testing of students and staff revealed something interesting: The majority of positive cases were found among those who were in remote learning. (The Health Department is posting data about the schools on its website.)

There were 77 positive cases in total, including students, staff, and teachers. Of those, 44 are students or teachers and staff at 34 schools with remote learning.

The remaining 33 positive cases are those attending school in person: 19 students and 14 teachers and staff spread out among 25 schools, said Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

Mount St. Charles Academy, a Catholic high school in Woonsocket, has the highest number of cases of the K-12 schools, with five to nine reported positive. In schools with multiple cases, health officials have found common exposures outside of school -- through siblings or close friends, she said.

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“We have 100,000 kids back in school, and we will begin to see new cases. The key is that we contain the cases so we don’t see new spikes,” Raimondo said. “And so far after one week, it suggests our systems are working.”

Statewide, there are 121 new cases and three fatalities since Tuesday, and 86 people hospitalized.

The new cases bring Rhode Island’s total to 24,177 and the death toll to 1,102. There were 8,234 tests performed on Tuesday, with a percent-positive of 1.5 percent.

Alexander-Scott said that social gatherings still can lead to new cases, and that the state is seeing outbreaks in certain professions, including 26 new cases in manufacturing and 25 new cases in retail.

What will this mean for Halloween? Raimondo and Alexander-Scott said they are working on ways to allow trick or treating to go forward, in a safe way that doesn’t spread the virus.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.