PROVIDENCE — Declaring that Rhode Island is in need of a wakeup call after an alarming uptick in coronavirus cases, Governor Gina Raimondo said Wednesday that she intends to announce new restrictions designed to curb the spread of infections.
Raimondo said she hasn’t made final decisions on her regulations, but she encouraged residents to cancel Halloween parties and avoid traveling for Thanksgiving, while also warning that the state will strictly enforce any new rules she puts in place.
The governor also made it clear that she does not intend to close any more K-12 schools or any restaurants and retail businesses because she doesn’t believe that’s how people are getting infected.
“Small social gatherings are causing our problems,” Raimondo said during her weekly press conference. She said new restrictions will be announced on Thursday afternoon.
In fact, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the nation’s governors in a phone call Tuesday that small household gatherings are becoming a growing source of COVID-19 spread.
“Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting," Redfield said in an audio of the call obtained by CNN.
The state Department of Health announced Wednesday that Rhode Island had 160 new coronavirus cases, along with a 2.7 percent positive test rate, the state’s highest rate in several months. Eight more residents have died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,147 since March. There were 131 people in the hospital.
More disturbing, Raimondo said, are the state’s weekly trends, especially the average number of hospitalizations, which increased from 67 last week to 107 this week. The number of positive cases per 100,000 residents jumped from 98 last week to 120 this week.
Raimondo said the state’s hospitals are still well under capacity, so residents should not panic. However, she warned: “I do want you be concerned and alarmed and jolted into making some changes because we’re on the wrong path."
“The bad news is, I don’t have good news,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo said the recent surge in cases is different than the first wave of infections that Rhode Island saw in the spring and early summer. She said residents have complied with mask requirements when they go out and have limited their gatherings to fewer than 15 people, but she suggested that people have let down their guard when in more intimate settings.
As examples, she cited small neighborhood gatherings or people talking in break rooms at work as places where residents are contracting the virus. She acknowledged that even her own family has been guilty at times.
Raimondo and state health officials say the trend is similar to what midwestern and southern states have seen in recent months. The governor singled out Wisconsin as a state that thought it had the virus under control, only to see a large spike in cases.
“I don’t want to be Wisconsin,” Raimondo said. “They were in a great place, but they are in a terrible place right now.”
The state is already testing nearly 10,000 residents a day, but Raimondo said she wants to increase testing among asymptomatic people. She said she intends to get tested weekly in attempt to “lead by example.” Testing is free in Rhode Island.
Raimondo said schools, both the K-12 system and colleges, have not been responsible for the recent uptick in cases. But she said the state has decided that Providence, the state’s largest school district, and Central Falls will continue with a partial in-person reopening the rest of the semester. That means some schools will be open for in-person learning, while others will operate with distance learning.
Raimondo said most school districts have opened their doors for in-person learning, but she criticized Pawtucket, where officials continue to keep schools closed.
“Why is it that you are robbing the children of Pawtucket the ability to learn in school?” she said of the Pawtucket School Committee.