Households and families fuel transmission of coronavirus in Rhode Island, IBM data shows

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – IBM has provided Rhode Island with new analysis of contact tracing data that suggests 42% of coronavirus transmissions in recent weeks have likely occurred between families or households, while the rest s ‘is produced elsewhere in the community.

The company – through its partner Salesforce, which is under contract to the state – provided the analysis to RI’s health ministry a day after state officials recognized that it was almost impossible to identify where transmission was occurring because the virus is so widespread. And while Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken said this remains true, the new information from IBM offers a more detailed look at the limited data available.

“There are limitations on the data, but these are precise,” Wendelken told Target 12, adding that information gaps are to be expected when relying on humans to report them- even information about their close contacts and travel history.

IBM’s analysis of 4,162 cases from September 14 to November 4 – accounting for about 32% of the 12,901 infections reported statewide during that time period – shows that about 42% of transmission likely occurred between family or within the same household.

The remaining infections – about 58% of the total – were designated as “community-transmitted cases,” meaning they likely occurred somewhere outside the home. Of those 2,660 or so cases, IBM concluded that 36% probably occurred at work, 26% in places where there were customers – such as restaurants and bars – and 11% at leisure sites, including churches, parks and sports facilities, according to the Analysis. The rest was not specified.

The scan offers a new window into where the virus could spread the most among Rhode Islanders, and although the workplace appears to be the biggest contributor to infections outside the home, Governor Gina Raimondo said she was going to do everything possible not to close down businesses.

“I will do everything I can to avoid this or postpone it for as long as possible, but I may not have this option given the current trend in hospitalizations,” Raimondo said on Tuesday during his report. weekly interview on 12 News Now at 4.

As of Wednesday, 284 people with coronavirus were in hospital, according to the health ministry, which was the highest level since May 13. And senior health officials said on Wednesday they expected a Cranston field hospital set up to handle the overflows to see its first patients in the coming weeks. A second field hospital, at the Rhode Island Convention Center, is also in preparation.

No specific mention of schools is made in IBM’s analysis, a notable omission given that the state has separately identified at least 1,470 cases among students and in-person staff since September 14. Wendelken acknowledged that there was no category of schools, but he said any infected teachers or other staff would be included in the workplace category of the scan.

“For people who work in K-12 schools, their number should be in the ’employment’ category,” he explained, adding that he was not sure whether collegiate cases were taken into account and academics.

Rhode Island leaders have insisted that schools are not a major source of the spread, with Raimondo saying there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, echoing the view of many national experts. The governor also warned that being out of school had a behavioral and emotional impact on students. And limiting interactions between students and adults outside their families also opens the door so things like child abuse and neglect go unchecked.

State medical director Dr James McDonald doubled down on the argument that schools are not a problem in an interview with 12 News on Wednesday.

“We just don’t see widespread epidemics in the same classroom or the same school,” McDonald said, adding that he received the scan from IBM the same day. “We are seeing cases in schools and we are seeing some outbreaks, but they are being managed right now. Obviously, this is an area that we continue to examine.

Nonetheless, state education officials on Wednesday evening asked high schools to prepare for the possibility of reducing their capacity to just 25% in the coming weeks, as teacher absences linked to the coronavirus have brought about tests the ability of districts to maintain adequate staff levels. Teacher unions, meanwhile, have fought against in-person learning since the start of school, arguing it is not safe for adults and staffing levels will become an issue.

“Whatever the source!” National Education Association of Rhode Island executive director Robert Walsh tweeted Thursday. “Whether adults and students are infected or simply forced to quarantine the number of people unavailable to cover class or attend class, the in-person system is not sustainable as the number of cases increases. Why do people ignore this aspect? “

For weeks, the governor indicated that small social gatherings were the main factor in the infection. But as Target 12 reported on Tuesday, health officials found it nearly impossible to identify new infections because the virus has become so prevalent and the state’s contact tracing efforts have failed. could follow.

Following the Target 12 report, several viewers said they were never contacted by health officials after testing positive, and some said they took it upon themselves to contact close contacts instead.

IBM’s analysis, which offers the clearest picture to date of where the virus could spread locally, shows family and domestic transmission to be by far the biggest problem. The data echoes what was observed during the first wave of the pandemic: the coronavirus spreads most easily among people living nearby.

The momentum has run hardest in the state’s most densely populated communities, including Central Falls, where the situation appears to be repeating itself in Wave 2. The one-square-mile community – with nearly 20,000 residents – has reported the highest rate of weekly cases out of 39 towns and villages for several consecutive weeks, with more than seven out of 1,000 residents testing positive last week.

Since March, around 11% of the city’s population has been infected, according to the Department of Health, and the latest wave of cases has prompted Central Falls James Diossa to order all restaurants and bars in the city to close for the rest of November.

“The second wave of COVID-19 is proving brutal for our state; but especially hard in our city as the residents of Central Falls continue to suffer from a disproportionate burden of disease, ”Diossa said in a statement earlier this week.

The city’s challenges are manifold, but according to IBM’s analysis, the city is likely affected from two sides. Multi-family homes where several people live together in nearby neighborhoods are abundant in Central Falls, and IBM’s analysis shows that households are the most common place for the virus to spread.

In addition, nearly 40% of the city’s workforce is employed in manufacturing or in health care and social assistance, according to a 2018 report from RI’s Ministry of Labor and Training. . Both industries have remained widely open throughout the pandemic, with people expected to go to work in person. According to IBM, the most common place for the virus to spread outside the home in Rhode Island is at work.

How the new data could inform future policy decisions by the state remains unclear. But Raimondo often quotes national health experts, including Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who argues that large closures are not necessary if more targeted closures are implemented.

Jha has repeatedly cited Michigan as a good example, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered the closure of casinos, high schools, colleges and universities, workplaces – if the work can be done from home. – and indoor meals for restaurants and bars.

But the governor of Michigan, a Democrat, has allowed other activities and parts of the economy to remain open, including Kindergarten to Grade 8, two-household reunions, barber shops and salons, the child care, manufacturing and construction and other industries.

“We don’t need national lockdowns,” Jha tweeted Tuesday. “We need targeted restrictions that minimize risk and keep the community safe. ”

Eli Sherman ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

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