In Rhode Island, residents can go to the movies, restaurants, beaches, museums, and indoor concerts with a limited capacity of 125 people. Citizens can even go to bars, and the state says schools can reopen safely at the end of August. With COVID-19 still surging in the United States, the luxury to leave the house for non-essential, indoor fun is rare. But thanks to the Rhode Island coronavirus response, it’s entirely possible.
Rhode Island can make moves to substantially reopen its economy because coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations, and infections have been nosediving since May, according to data from its Department of Health. In the first week of July, the state saw less than 50 new COVID-19 cases a day. It has less than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, which is less than 0.1% of its population. It was labeled a “low-risk state” by COVID Act Now for most of May and June.
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) told Politico that Rhode Island successfully fought COVID-19 with comprehensive testing, aggressive contact tracing, and a stringent mandatory mask policy. She said she looked to models created by countries like South Korea and New Zealand when creating a plan for the state.
“I had this moment of clarity very early on, at 2am, while I was working in my house alone: There’s no way you can outrun this thing,” she said. “You have to stay a step ahead. That’s when we said we need aggressive testing, very aggressive contact tracing, and social distancing.”
It also helped that Raimondo made strategic partnerships with businesses like CVS and the software company Salesforce. When she deployed the National Guard to do drive-thru testing, CVS helped make it possible. Salesforce built the state a contact tracing app for free.
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and the bottom line was that we were on our own, and we had to get innovative,” Raimondo said. “I’m comfortable with calling business leaders and asking them to pitch in, and I knew technology was going to be vital.”
Rhode Island’s success is particularly a big deal because it was initially hit hard by COVID-19. It was seeing more than 400 new cases a day and a similar number of hospitalizations at its peak. Politico says that’s because Rhode Island is particularly at-risk as the nation’s second-densest and ninth-oldest population. It’s also nestled in between two major hot spots: New York City and Boston.
Those facts remain, even as Rhode Island touts success in battling back COVID-19. Although Rhode Island is seen as a victory model, the state has begun to see a slight increase in cases in July.
On July 10, Raimondo chastised large groups congregating on the state’s beaches and urged people to continue wearing masks, according to Patch. She threatened to close beaches if visitors didn’t begin to act more responsibly.