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RI HEALTH

Four of five R.I. counties now at ‘high’ levels of COVID-19

CDC recommends people wear high-quality masks in indoor public settings in counties with ‘high’ levels

The Rhode Island Department of Health is recommending seven tools to protect against COVID-19.Handout

PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Health on Thursday reported that COVID-19 levels in four of Rhode Island’s five counties are now at “high” levels, reflecting increases in the region and nation.

Bristol, Kent, Providence, and Washington counties have gone from “medium” to “high” levels as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while Newport County remains at the “medium” level, the state reported.

In setting community levels, the CDC factors in COVID-19 case rates, hospital admissions, and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

The CDC recommends people wear high-quality masks while in indoor public settings in counties with “high” levels.

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Rhode Island has seen increases in cases and hospitalizations over the last several weeks, but those levels remain “considerably lower” than at prior points in the pandemic, the Health Department said. The department is not expecting Rhode Island to see a surge like the one in January because so many residents have access to vaccines and treatment.

“With COVID-19 now an endemic disease in Rhode Island, we should expect moderate increases and decreases in our COVID-19 levels over the coming months,” said Dr. James McDonald, interim director of the Health Department. “However, serious illness from COVID-19 is now largely a preventable, treatable disease because of the tools and resources we have. Taking a few simple prevention steps when more COVID-19 is circulating, such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings and getting a booster dose, can help keep you and your loved ones safe.”

Those who receive booster doses are 55 times less likely to be hospitalized because of COVID-19, he said.

The Health Department is unveiling “7 Tools for Protection Against COVID-19″:

Prevent

  • Vaccination — Stay up to date with your vaccines and recommended boosters.
  • Ventilation — Outdoor or well-ventilated areas are safest.
  • Masking — Wear a high-quality mask in crowded indoor se­ttings.

Detect

  • Symptom screening — Watch for symptoms after travel or large gatherings.
  • Testing — Get tested if you have symptoms or were exposed.

Treat

  • Isolation — Stay away from others if you test positive.
  • Treatment — Ask a healthcare provider about treatment if you test positive.

Earlier this week, Dr. Michael Fine, the former state Health Department director who is now who is now chief health strategist for Central Falls, warned that “COVID-19 is back in Rhode Island.”

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Central Falls, a densely populated 1.2-square-mile city, has long been the state’s “canary in the coal mine,” warning of impending surges in the virus. And Central Falls is now seeing the number of cases rise, reflecting a wider trend, he said.

“It’s back,” Fine wrote on his website. “Our testing numbers are up, hospitalizations have doubled, some test sites in Central Falls are running 25 percent positive, and some schools in Central Falls have lost so many staff to illness that they are talking about whether they need to close for five to 10 days.”

In March, federal data showed that coronavirus levels in waste water had risen at seven out of eight treatment plants in Rhode Island, and those levels were up sharply in half of those sampling sites. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a National Wastewater Surveillance System in September, describing it as an “early warning” system that would allow communities to act to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If this is an early indicator, we have to alert the community,” Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, a public health advocate who is on the Rhode Island COVID-19 Equity Council, said at the time. “Waste water has to tell us something. We can’t just ignore it.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.