College virus outbreaks drive Rhode Island's case rate up

Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday blamed a surge of new coronavirus cases in Rhode Island on recent outbreaks among students at Providence College and the University of Rhode Island.

The schools, between them, have had nearly 200 new cases in the past week or so, the Democratic governor said at a news conference.

Many of the roughly 150 Providence College students who have tested positive lived off campus on the same street lined with multifamily homes. The state's case investigators found that the virus spread through small gatherings of students moving from floor to floor within a house and moving from house to house, gathering in small groups on porches and in yards, she said.

“There was no big party,” she said.

The situation was similar at URI. Most cases there were traced to small gatherings at which students did not wear face coverings and shared food and drink, she said.

“This is an opportunity for me to remind you please, it's not only keeping groups small, and social gatherings to 15 or fewer, please limit your social network. Try to keep it to the same 15 people," she said.

Raimondo expressed dismay that because of those college outbreaks, Rhode Island is back on the list of states whose residents are required to quarantine for 14 days when traveling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“To all the people at PC who played a hand in this, these are real consequences," she said. “This is hurting people's businesses in Rhode Island."

Rhode Island was added because its average rate of new cases over seven days surpassed the 10 per 100,000 residents mark. But Raimondo said that’s because the state is testing so many people.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has risen over the past two weeks from more than 84 on Sept. 8 to more than 113 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Raimondo said she’s been in touch with leadership in all three states to have Rhode Island removed from the travel advisory list, but so far without success.

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SCHOOL TESTING

There were 77 confirmed cases of the coronavirus among students and staff at Rhode Island's schools during the first week of classes, but most of those cases were among students taking classes remotely, Raimondo said.

Of the 77 cases, 33 were among students and staff who had actually been inside a school building, she said.

Those 33 cases were spread over 25 schools, according to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, and original exposure was most often outside of school.

“At this point, we are not seeing transmission in schools,” Raimondo said.

The state's dedicated testing system just for students and people who work in schools tested an average of 250 people per day in its first week.

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DEATH TOLL

Rhode Island's death toll from the coronavirus has passed the 1,100 mark, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.

The agency reported three new deaths Wednesday, for a total of 1,102.

The department also reported 121 new confirmed cases out of more than 8,200 tests, a positivity rate of about 1.5%.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Rhode Island has risen over the past two weeks from 1.13% on Sept. 8 to 1.46% on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins.

Eighty-six patients were in the hospital according to the latest data, and nine were in intensive care.

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COLLEGE LAYOFFS

The Community College of Rhode Island is laying off 45 full-time, non-faculty staff and is looking at other cost-cutting measures in response to economic challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

President Meghan Hughes also asked the Council on Postsecondary Education to approve furloughs equal to a salary reduction of between 3% and 5% for all nonunion Board of Education employees who earn more than $65,000 annually, The Providence Journal reported Tuesday.

The public college, which has five campuses, had already halted cost-of-living increases for the 2021 fiscal year.

The last day of employment for those being laid off is Oct. 23.

“As you know, the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have created significant financial challenges for the college, and our approach to this crisis will continue to be based on preserving the institutional health of the college while causing the least possible harm to our community,” Hughes wrote.

CCRI’s enrollment is 9% lower than last year’s enrollment of 14,775 students. That means a $4 million decline in tuition revenue from what was originally budgeted, Hughes said.