Rhode Island COVID-19 hospitalizations at 'tipping point' as officials issue warnings

"We are on a very bad path toward overwhelming our hospitals."

November 21, 2020, 4:57 PM

Rhode Island is on the brink of needing to open its COVID-19 field hospitals -- and officials are fearful of what the next few weeks will bring.

"We're worried that this will be a December in which our ICUs overflow and which the field hospital is rapidly filled up," Dr. Laura Forman, chief of emergency medicine at Kent Hospital in Warwick, told Providence ABC affiliate WLNE on Friday.

Forman is also chief medical officer for the Cranston field hospital, one of two field hospitals that are on standby in the state.

"Our big concern is what happens in the next couple of weeks," she told the station. "You know, across the state, we are really being pushed to the brink in terms of hospital capacity, and we're very worried that at this current trajectory we're going to be pushed into the field hospital pretty soon."

Hospitals' COVID-19 beds were at 97% capacity in Rhode Island, and hospitalizations were increasing at a faster rate than they were at their peak in the spring, Gov. Gina Raimondo said at a press briefing Thursday.

At the current rate, the Cranston field hospital will likely need to open a week after Thanksgiving, Raimondo said.

"We are on a very bad path toward overwhelming our hospitals, so something more needs to be done," said the governor, warning that hospitals were at a "tipping point."

PHOTO: A health care worker administers a coronavirus test at a clinic in Providence, R.I., on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.
A health care worker administers a coronavirus test at a clinic in Providence, R.I., on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.
Elizabeth Frantz/The New York Times via Redux

Rhode Island crossed 300 current hospitalizations this week, state data shows, approaching levels seen during peak hospitalizations in late April and early May. It reported a record 55 hospital admissions on Nov. 17.

After seeing COVID-19 cases tied to social events, Raimondo on Thursday announced new restrictions in the state. Social gatherings were immediately limited to a single household, including for Thanksgiving.

Starting Nov. 30, the state will go on a two-week pause, with in-person colleges, bar areas, recreational venues and gyms closed, among other restrictions.

This follows more targeted measures, including a curfew on bars and restaurants and capacity limits for shopping malls and big-box retailers, issued earlier this month.

"I'm in a world of all bad choices, and I'm trying to pick the least bad of the options," Raimondo said Thursday. "I am trying to get us through to the end of the year without overwhelming the hospital system."

The goal is to avoid a full lockdown, as well as having to limit elective hospital procedures.

"It's taking care of people who have heart attacks and strokes and injuries, and that is a priority for all of us so we are able to care for them all. But the more people that have COVID, the more difficult that becomes," Forman told WLNE.

The doctor is also concerned about staffing shortages.

"There are only so many qualified nurses and doctors who can take care of patients, and there are only so many hospital beds, there are only so many ICU beds," she told WLNE.

Forman was "hopeful" that people will take stock of what is at stake and follow the restrictions.

"I'm really hopeful that people will take this seriously," she said, "because Rhode Islanders are dying from this, and we need to stop this."

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