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Rising COVID-19 cases prompt new precautions in Rhode Island

Businesses reimplement safety precautions in light of Delta variant cases

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Cases of COVID-19 are once again steeply increasing in Rhode Island with the prevalence of the Delta variant, prompting new restrictions and more calls for the unvaccinated to get a shot.

Rhode Island is currently listed as a state with “high transmission” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 181.1 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days. There were 273 new positive cases on Sept. 6, up from just 12 two months ago on July 4.

As of press time, 68.4% of Rhode Islanders were at least partially vaccinated, with 62.2% of the state being fully vaccinated. This falls short of the estimated levels required for herd immunity, which could range anywhere from 70 to 90%, public health officials say.

“The rise in cases is absolutely concerning,” Philip Chan, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health and associate professor of medicine at the University, told The Herald. “We’re seeing significant hospitalizations in the U.S. and in Rhode Island.” He added that the large number of new cases is putting “significant strain” on “already short-staffed” hospital systems.

“Vaccines are really the best way to end this pandemic,” Chan said, adding that many places are already beginning to mandate vaccines and predicted we would see “more and more” of that.

Many stores, restaurants and other venues are beginning to reinstate mask mandates and other public health measures in response to the rise in cases. Nine entertainment venues, including the Gamm Theatre and Providence Performing Arts Center, jointly announced Aug. 25 that they will require indoor masking, as well as proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test from the past 72 hours, at shows this fall.

“We’re following the protocols that were put in place by Broadway shows in New York City,” Caitlyn DiTompo, marketing projects specialist at the PPAC, told The Herald. She said she was not worried about the possibility of losing patrons with the new requirements, saying “some people may choose to not attend the shows, but there are also people that did not previously feel comfortable without the requirements.” 

DiTompo said that the PPAC will operate at full capacity. 

The PPAC has additional measures in place, such as advanced air filtration, compulsory hand sanitizing and use of EPA-certified disinfectants between shows. All ticket scanning, food ordering and payment is contactless. Additionally, all staff must be fully vaccinated and masked. 

Regarding reopening, DiTompo added that the PPAC would continue to monitor CDC and state recommendations, and that they “would likely make updates as things evolve.”

While Gov. Dan McKee praised businesses that have implemented new precautions at an Aug. 26 press conference, he has not reimplemented any mask mandates or indicated plans to enact a statewide vaccine mandate.

When asked about businesses, Chan said that we have “learned a lot a year and a half into the pandemic.” He said that, while businesses would not have to shut down again, they should come up with strategies for COVID-19 prevention and mitigation. “Businesses can always ask for proof of vaccination. Another option is to rely on people’s honor,” although he acknowledged the possibility of individuals lying about their vaccination status.

Chan said that individuals should also be taking personal precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including “masking, physical distancing and certainly avoiding larger gatherings,” he said.  “At the moment, case rates are high, so the risk of breakthrough infections will exist. The vaccines are not 100% effective, so I would mask indoors and in public places. When case rates drop, we (will) not have to.”

Chan also said that, while everybody who can get a vaccine should get one, a priority for public health officials should be to focus on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, as a way to mitigate hospitalizations and deaths. He emphasized that the current vaccines are “quite effective against all variants that we know today, including the Delta variant.”

“Hopefully, cases will come down,” Chan said. “This isn’t a forever type of thing. There is some evidence that case rates are leveling.” He added that “if people get vaccinated, then we won’t have to live like this … vaccinations hold the key.”

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  1. how about some actual numbers to the hospitalizations!

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