Gov. Gina Raimondo added two new terms to the growing lexicon of Covid-19 terminology. Along with “social distancing” and “Knock it off,” Rhode Islanders can add “Blue Line” and “Red Line.”
The lines are part of Rhode Island’s newly released coronavirus modeling, something Gov. Raimondo has been asked about for weeks and made public just this afternoon during her daily coronavirus briefing. As seen in the graphic above, the state has two scenarios for what might happen in the next month. The lines measure the number of hospital beds required to treat coronavirus patients in Rhode Island.
The “blue line” shows the “best case scenario,” with a peak on or around May 3, when the state would need 2,250 beds for patients in severe distress. “That is a number we could handle within our existing hospital system,” Gov. Raimondo said.
The “red line” shows the worst-case scenario, with a peak coming about a week earlier, on or around April 27, with the state needing 4,300 hospital beds for patients requiring acute care.
The difference between blue and red means everything, according to the governor. With the “blue” scenario, Rhode Island has enough beds. With the “red” scenario, things start to get a little uncomfortable, as the state does not yet have that many beds available and may not be able to create enough, even in the emergency overflow settings under construction at the Rhode Island Convention Center and in Cranston.
“The red line represents what we think will happen if we stop taking social distancing seriously,” Gov. Raimondo said. “In that scenario, the peak comes sooner and it is obviously much higher.”
She was quick to add, however, “But I don’t think we’re going to be at the red line … because we are doing an awesome job of social distancing.”
She reiterated at least half a dozen times during her Thursday briefing that the difference between blue and red depends on all Rhode Islanders following the state’s protocols, like the stay-at-home, social-distancing and mandatory mask orders, difficult as they are.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing, staying home, washing our hands, working from home, I think our actual experience will be even better than the blue line. I am working to beat that blue line, and I want you to do that with me. Because if you do, we can all go back to work sooner. We can all go back to school sooner. We can breathe a sigh of relief. And we don’t have to have these terrible press conferences every day talking about the numbers of people sick, in the hospital, and dying. So I hope I can come back to you in another couple of weeks, with a different set of lines, and say, ‘Way to go, Rhode Island.’ ”
She said she showed the model because, “I wanted you to see that your hard work is already paying off hugely.” A few weeks ago, she said, the “worst-case” scenario looked a lot worse; it showed the state needing 6,000 to 7,000 hospital beds.
When discussing the model and why she just released it today, Gov. Raimondo said they have been waiting to accumulate enough data to feel confident in the projections. Though prepared by a task force of about a dozen experts in fields like computer science, epidemiology and analytics, the model is not perfect and it is subject to change, she said.
“The single biggest variable is the effectiveness of social distancing,” Gov. Raimondo said. “Social distancing is working. Social distancing is saving lives. And if you hang in there a few more weeks, we will be in a much, much better place.”
She finished with an analogy: “I think of what we’re doing here as a race. We’re trying to keep a lid on the virus while we’re racing as hard as we can to ramp up our healthcare system for the coming surge.”
A plea for help
Gov. Raimond took a moment to once again ask for help from anyone who can contribute to the healthcare system. She said there are not enough workers to assist during the coming surge, so anyone who works part-time in a field like nursing, anyone who is soon to graduate, anyone who is recently retired and willing to come back to work, “Please go to riresponds.org and sign up and let us know you’re willing to help .. It’s almost certain we’re going to need help staffing beds.”
No news on schools
Though earlier in the week, Gov. Raimondo said an announcement would be coming soon on schools, she postponed that decision on Thursday.
“I’m going to be very honest with you,” she said. “This is a huge decision. It weighs on me, but I need to get it right.”
Though numerous states around the country have closed schools entirely, and many others have announced that distance learning will continue for the remainder of this school year, Gov. Raimondo is not willing to go that far yet. For the moment, the buildings remain closed through the end of April.
“I wish I had answer today. I’m sorry if that’s frustrating for educators and parents,” she said, before sharing a small dose of optimism. “I’m not wiling to throw in the towel and say school is out for the rest of the year. I don’t know that that is necessary yet.”
She expressed deep appreciation for those in the trenches on education.
“This isn’t easy. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. There are many, many parents who are working from home and trying to help their kids get educated at home. Thank you. You are really heroes out there. Teachers are stretching the limits of their creativity. The same with principals and superintendents. The fact is, your’e doing a fantastic job. Attendance rates are up. Engagement rates are up. And children are learning … I’m incredibly proud of you.”
She said they will have more guidance in about a week.
Please, go to work
Though about 160,000 Rhode Islanders have filed for Unemployment Insurance since this crisis began, Gov. Raimondo said there are thousands more people who remain employed in critical roles. She urged them to “be brave” and keep going to work.
“For those of you who still have your jobs, I need you to be brave. I need you to go to work … People are relying on you.”
Looking for work?
The governor also announced there are about 2,000 job openings in Rhode Island, with some in fields like healthcare, grocery stores and manufacturing centers. On Thursday she announced a new partnership between the Department of Labor and Training, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future, and the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. to create a new employer/applicant resource.
“As of today, if you are looking for a job, or you’re an employer looking to find people, go to employri.org,” she said.
The state recorded 18 new fatalities since yesterday, with all of the victims in their seventies, eighties or nineties, and all of them living in congregate care settings, such as nursing homes. That brings the state’s number of fatalities to 105.
Summer in Newport — not likely
One of the questions asked of the governor was whether Newport can expect to have the type of summer that is familiar to both residents and the Rhode Island economy — a summer of large-scale events, concerts and festivals.
Gov. Raimondo began by saying the whole situation is extremely fluid and July is a long way off. But she then poured a small bucket of cold water on Newport’s summer plans … “It’s hard to see how we would be able to allow large concerts, large gatherings … We’re going to be at this business of some level of social distancing for months … Those sorts of things will be the last to come online.”
Stay the course
Toward the end of the briefing, the governor returned to her discussion of the blue line and red line modeling, with a final message to Rhode Islanders to stay the course:
“The fact of the matter is, you have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. And in this situation, the worst-case scenario is where you have a healthcare system totally overwhelmed, with not enough hospital beds, not enough ventilators, not enough doctors and nurses, not enough critical PPE (personal protective equipment). So you have to have some sense of, what’s the worst, when will it be, and what do I have to do so it never gets that bad. And I would say, we’re in pretty good shape right now. But we cannot take our foot off the gas in readying the system for that kind of spike. And the public cannot take their foot off the gas in terms of staying at home, washing hands, keeping your contact log. We are very much still in the soup of this. We’ve very much still in the thick of this. So hunker down now, and at some point, I know this will get a lot better.”
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