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Friday, May 1, 2020

UPDATED: Short Takes #12: Rhode Island’s war against the coronavirus

Of metrics and misery
By Will Collette

While you're social distancing, you can
have some fun with shrubbery.
It seems relatively easier to adjust to our strange new world of COVID-19 social distancing when you are already retired, as I am.

But for older people, there is the knowledge that if you are old enough to retire, you are at much higher risk of critical illness or death than younger people.

At least that’s what the statistics say. For example, 73% of Rhode Island’s coronavirus hospitalizations were people aged 50 and older. ALL RI’s COVID-19 dead were aged 50 and up; 94% of the dead were aged 60+.

The virus is decimating nursing homes and cases are growing at the RI Veterans home, group homes, as well as the state prison and the private Wyatt prison in Central Falls.

Two South County nursing homes show up on the Health Department’s list of facilities with high COVID-19 stats. 

Scalabrini Villa in North Kingstown has had between 60-64 coronavirus cases and 5-9 deaths. 

The South Kingstown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has had 10-14 cases and less than 5 deaths.

Good News: you’re discharged. Bad News: you’re dead

NYC's grim contingency as coronavirus deaths rise: Temporary mass ...
Two more patients being discharged (ABC News)
Of course, statistics can be deceiving. 

WPRI learned that when you are a hospitalized COVID-19 patient, being “discharged” is not necessarily a good thing.

Of 466 coronavirus patients who were “discharged” from the hospital, 86 of them were discharged because they were dead.

Later, the Health Department explained that hospitals have an array of “discharge codes” and, for some reason, being discharged for being dead was included in the tally. RIDOH has since subtracted those 86 from the “discharged” tally and will not count the dead as “discharged” in the future.

Charlestown’s numbers

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Charlestown has risen to 10. However, we are still far better off than the rest of the state. If you discount Block Island which has no confirmed cases, Charlestown and Hopkinton have the lowest per capita rate of infection in the state with less than one per 1000 residents. CORRECTION: in the last day, Charlestown cases jumped to 14.

We really don’t know the true numbers for Charlestown or Rhode Island or the nation. It takes a lot of testing to identify those currently infected (including the asymptomatic) and reliable anti-body testing to determine who has already had COVID-19.

Despite Trump's outlandish claims on testing to the contrary, we simply are not there yet.

The burdens of youth

Younger people face the crushing levels of unemployment this pandemic has caused. In February, the RI Department of Labor and Training pegged the size of the state’s active workforce at 558,531 with an unemployment rate of 3.2%.

As of April 23, unemployment is way over 32% with 180,000 seeking unemployment benefits. Add another 40,000 self-employed and gig workers who have applied for the new Pandemic benefits and the 20,000 seeking coverage under the state Temporary Disability Program.

That’s almost a quarter of a million RI workers hurt by the pandemic and let’s not forget their families. 

UPDATED: as of May 1, the number of Rhode Islanders who have applied for benefits reached 270,541. According to GoLocalProv, that's more than half the workforce, given at 540,300.

That's technically accurate. On my calculator, it comes to 50.072367203%.

Despite the obvious economic pain Raimondo’s executive orders have caused, she has the public’s support.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Whenever they tell you: iT's GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME "It's to keep you BEWARE! DEATH Below is as shared in a FB post by Senator Elaine Morgan: (15 mins) MY PHRASE OF THE DAY: Stay SAFE: S=Sabotage S= A=American F=Freedom AND AND E=Economy Sabotage American Freedom & Economy NOT TAKE MY LIBERTIES TO KEEP ME SAFE'
Sen. Elaine Morgan's contribution to the debate
I believe that's because people understand it could be a lot worse. 

Even though far right-wing Trumpniks like Charlestown’s state Senator Elaine Morgan are apoplectic over Gina Raimondo’s aggressive pandemic suppression measures, she has slowed the growth of our hospitalizations and the spread of the disease.

You can’t earn a living if you’re in intensive care or dead.

Quiet Ninigret

It’s too soon to tell if Raimondo’s approval will take a hit after her new Executive Order banning major public events this summer.

Though much media attention has focused on the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, Charlestown will not see its annual Seafood Festival or Rhythm and Roots this year; both have been cancelled. Other public events in the Park are also likely to be cancelled or not scheduled – any event that gathers more than 50 people would violate the Governor’s order.

The traditional Memorial Day Parade in Charlestown isn’t going to happen either unless parade organizer Jim Mageau decides to defy the Governor. If you’ve followed Jim Mageau over the years (as we have), it’s easy to imagine Jim picking a fight with Raimondo.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance to this order. They control town government and have relentlessly campaigned to curb public activity in Ninigret Park.

Ways that Rhode Island has been helpful, large and small.

Rhode Island compares very favorably on a number of factors when compared to other states. For example, according to WalletHub, Rhode Island is one of the easiest states to do social distancing. We are the third best state for providing COVID-19 support.

An example of a small but really nice thing, the Health Department has put up a new online Covid Self-Check. CLICK HERE. It’s really user-friendly. In general, the Department has done some nice work, including making access to health information, including statistics, a whole lot easier.

One really major thing is Raimondo’s April 27 Executive Order on health benefits. Here are the major bullet points:
  • Your out-of-pocket prescription costs cannot be increased nor can an insurer drop medication you need from coverage. In general, insurers can only make changes to your drug coverage that benefit YOU (not them).
  • Insurers are directed to loosen their rules on provider referrals. You will NOT be required to get a referral for a “tele-health” visit. An earlier executive order made these types of visits fully covered under all plans.
  • In similar fashion, prior authorizations must be handled quickly and without stress on patients about who is going to pay. There may be no prior authorizations required for COVID-19 testing or treatment.
  • Under her order, people needing mental health care will not be required to get referrals or other benefit review approvals.
Also, in an order issued on April 28, Raimondo created a 90-day grace period for motorists whose licenses and registrations expire in May, so they won’t have to be renewed until August. She had already granted a three-month grace period for those whose licenses expire in March and April.

Finally, on a trip to CVS a couple days ago, I noticed the State Police coronavirus checkpoint on Route 1 just north of Westerly Airport was gone. Personally, I think they should make those checkpoints for out-of-state visitors permanent or at least during the summer.