PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee has not yet said he will commit to recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for some parts of the country to “mask up” again indoors.
Over the last week, there have been more than an average of 65 cases per 100,000 people in Rhode Island, with a test positive rate inching over 2 percent. Rhode Island is now considered to have “substantial transmission” of the coronavirus, according to CDC standards.
Here’s a closer look at the situation in the Ocean State.
1. The Delta variant isn’t as prevalent as B.1.1.7 was in Rhode Island— yet
While the Delta variant is largely becoming the “predominant variant” of the nation, it has not yet been identified as much in Rhode Island. Using genomic surveillance testing, the state has identified a small proportion of infected people who have contracted the delta variant (also known as the B.1.617.2 variant), instead of the B.1.1.7 variant, which has largely been the predominant strain.
In total, just 42 new COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island have been identified as the Delta variant, according to data from the state health department.
But the variant is also causing the CDC to reverse course on mask mandates. On Monday, the CDC recommended that people in areas of high transmission start wearing a mask again. Dr. Megan Ranney, professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, commented on the CDC’s guidance.
“Masks work. Full stop. They prevent me from spreading SARS-CoV-2 to you, and prevent you from spreading disease to me,” tweeted Ranney, who is also the director of Brown and Lifespan’s Center for Digital Health. “The biology has changed. [The] Delta variant is bad. It spreads more easily and more quickly.”
2. But there are ‘breakthrough’ cases
Since January 2021, there have been 1,121 “breakthrough” cases in Rhode Island among those people previously vaccinated. And 98 of those cases translated to hospitalizations, according to data by the state health department.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown’s School of Public Health, recently penned an op-ed in The Boston Globe, where he addressed breakthrough cases due to the Delta variant.
“First, let’s get the science clear. If you are fully vaccinated and encounter the Delta variant, you are about 90 percent less likely to be infected than if you had not been vaccinated,” wrote Jha. “And if you do get infected, you are extremely unlikely to get very sick. These facts underlie the CDC’s guidance that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors.”
“But here’s another way to see it: 90 percent is not 100 percent. And if a vaccinated person encounters the virus repeatedly or in high enough concentrations, the chances of a breakthrough infection gets more substantial.”
3. Cases are rising among all age groups
Since the beginning of June, COVID-19 cases are rising in Rhode Island. While most elderly Rhode Islanders were among the first group to get vaccinated, data shows that fewer people 60 and older are contracting COVID-19 compared to those 19 and older.
While many children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, they are testing positive for COVID-19 more often. Rhode Islanders between 30 and 39 years old are also seeing an increase in cases, from 31 cases the week of June 6 to 68 cases the week of July 10.
4. Here’s how vaccination rates in the state’s hardest-hit cities compare
In the beginning of the pandemic, Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket were the hardest-hit areas of the state. The state partnered with these municipalities and made younger residents in some areas eligible for the vaccine while other Rhode Islanders had to wait until mid-April. In parts of Central Falls, health care workers went directly into some people’s homes to administer the shot.
As of July, more than 63 percent of Central Falls’ population has been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 while nearly 55 percent are fully vaccinated. In Pawtucket, more than 56 percent of the population has received at least one shot, and more than 51 percent have been fully vaccinated. In Providence, where certain ZIP codes were hit harder than others, more than 57 percent of the population has been at least partially vaccinated and just over 51 percent have been fully vaccinated.
In the case of Central Falls and Pawtucket, nearly 100 percent of residents over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. In Providence, about 84 percent of people age 65 and older have been vaccinated.
5. Rhode Island still to reach more people of color
Despite Rhode Island’s overall vaccination rate being rather high, more than half of the state’s Black and Latino populations are not fully vaccinated. More than 61 percent of all Rhode Islanders have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the state health department. Among those adults 18 and older, nearly 72 percent have been fully vaccinated and nearly 79 percent have received at least one dose.
However, the state has fully vaccinated just 43 percent of its Black population and 46 percent of its Hispanic or Latino population.