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One small silver lining as Rhode Island’s COVID-19 hospitalizations surge

Compared to the early part of the pandemic, more people are in the hospital but the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care and on ventilators has decreased. What changed?

In April, Rhode Island set up its first field hospital inside a former Lowe's building in North Kingston for COVID-19 patients. Seven months later, cases are surging, and the governor warns that field hospitals may be needed again.
In April, Rhode Island set up its first field hospital inside a former Lowe's building in North Kingston for COVID-19 patients. Seven months later, cases are surging, and the governor warns that field hospitals may be needed again.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

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LEADING OFF

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and we’re one sleep away from the “Saved by the Bell” reboot. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 48,001 confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, after adding 2,454 new cases since Friday. The most recent overall daily test-positive rate was 5.6 percent, and the first-time positive rate was 20.3 percent. The state announced 15 more deaths, bringing the total to 1,309. There were 285 people in the hospital.

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It’s hard to believe that on Oct. 4, there were fewer than 100 Rhode Islanders in the hospital with COVID-19, with only eight residents in intensive care and five on ventilators. The three-day hospitalization average has more than tripled since that point, and there were three days last week when more than 300 people were in the hospital.

But if there is any silver lining in the hospital numbers, it’s that fewer residents find themselves in intensive care or on ventilators than during the first wave of the pandemic in April and May. As of Nov. 21, the most recent data available, there were 30 people in intensive care and 14 on ventilators. By comparison, exactly seven months ago, there were 72 in intensive care, and 56 on ventilators. 

So what has changed? 

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said “the big reason is that clinical care has gotten better over time.” 

He noted that Remdesivir, the first FDA-approved drug to treat COVID-19, is more widely available than it was during the first wave. Another drug, dexamethasone, has shown that it can decrease the severity of the illness. 

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“Doctors also have more clinical experience with the disease,” Wendelken said. “We’re better at ventilator management and also better at using anticoagulation, which prevents some of the end organ damage.” 

Wendelken also said that the state is testing more young people and even when they do end up in the hospital, they often have less-acute illnesses than older patients. Still, the overall hospital numbers continue to alarm health officials.

Governor Gina Raimondo has warned that hospitals are running out of COVID-specific hospital beds, and the state may be forced to use field hospitals set up in Cranston and at the Convention Center. But, as Raimondo pointed out in a Nov. 12 press conference, increasing the number of beds available means more health care workers are needed to tend to COVID-19 patients. Active or retired health care workers are urged to visit the Skills for Rhode Island website to learn more about opportunities to help.

THE GLOBE IN RHODE ISLAND

⚓ My latest: Bally’s (formerly Twin River) has all the making to become a significant player in the multibillion-dollar sports betting markets, and its shareholders are loving it. Read more.

⚓ A woman with Rhode Island connections is expected to be nominated for treasury secretary by President-elect Joe Biden, but it’s not Governor Raimondo. It’s Janet Yellen, who graduated from Brown University in 1967. Read more.

⚓ You might normally go see “A Virtual Christmas Celtic Sojourn” at The Vets in Providence, but this year you’ll be able to watch it from your couch. Read more.⚓ News you can use (especially if you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time): How to roast the perfect turkey. Read more.

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MORE ON BOSTONGLOBE.COM

⚓ POTUS: The Trump administration has agreed to begin the transition of power to President-elect Biden. Read more.

⚓ Politics: But what if President Trump refuses to leave the White House in January? My colleague Beth Teitell talked to the real experts about ways to get him moving in this humorous story. Read more.

⚓ Education: A new study shows that learning English is arguably the most valuable skill immigrants can acquire after they arrive in the United States. Read more.

⚓ Health: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that another 30,000 Americans could die from COVID-19 by Christmas. Read more.

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WHAT’S ON TAP TODAY

Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

BIRTHDAYS: Rhode Map readers, due to the holiday, we’re moving birthday wishes up to Wednesday. If you want to recognize a friend or family member, send me an e-mail with their first and last name, and their age.

⚓ The East Providence City Council meets tonight to consider a contract for a company that plans to install red light and school zone speeding cameras in the city.

⚓ The Providence City Council Finance Committee is holding a virtual meeting at 5 p.m. to continue budget talks.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.