What We Can Learn From Rhode Island’s Low Cases - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because sometimes the smallest states can have the biggest impact.

By Joshua Eferighe

It was all good a month ago, or so it seemed. Since the United States started to bend the coronavirus curve, summer has seen huge spikes across most of the country.

But there are 12 states, mostly in the Northeast region hardest hit by the virus in the early days, where cases are decreasing. There has been ample discussion about New York’s decline, but another state has emerged as the chief virus wrangler. Looking at the seven-day rolling average of cases from May 23 and July 6 …

Coronavirus cases in Rhode Island declined by 85 percent, the highest in the country.  

Rhode Island is not only leading the nation in testing, with nearly a quarter of its population tested so far, but its rate of positive tests has also dropped, from more than 18 percent to under 2 percent. It is now one of only four states rated a “low” risk level by the COVID Act Now project. Close behind Rhode Island are Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. The only states outside the Northeast with a downward trend in number of cases are Nebraska and South Dakota.

Raimondo was one of the first governors to shut down schools and businesses and to require masks.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo deserves much of the credit for fast, instinctive and firm leadership, according to Wendy J. Schiller, chair of the political science department at Brown University. While other states, including Georgia, Texas and Florida, attempted to reopen quickly, Raimondo was deliberate. “The lesson of Rhode Island was [Raimondo] was targeted,” Schiller says. “It was a combination of multipronged executive orders that put us in a position of essentially a stay-at-home. She opened up specific sectors of the economy she knew she could revive and started very slowly.”

It started with swift closures: Raimondo was one of the first governors to shut down schools and businesses and to require masks. She worked with local universities and colleges to vacate their campuses by mid-March — ahead of an end-of-March deadline.

Raimondo was also innovative and proactive in securing tests, using CVS — which is headquartered in Rhode Island — to secure early testing materials as well as making the Rhode Island Department of Health responsible for testing. This streamlined testing by ensuring that anybody who thought they had symptoms could contact the health department instead of going through a doctor. Raimondo also designated particular medical labs in the state strictly for COVID-19 testing so that results would arrive faster. Rhode Island’s cases peaked at about 390 per day in late April (more per capita than those of neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut) and then fell sharply.

It hasn’t all gone smoothly. Raimondo faced opposition for her forceful response and missteps such as a short-lived policy of having state troopers stop cars with New York license plates and sending National Guard troops to summer houses believed to be owned by New Yorkers. And Rhode Island’s success can be attributed to far more than Raimondo’s measures: America’s smallest state by land area is comparatively easy to seal off, and it’s not a travel hub like New York City or Atlanta.

But Raimondo’s response — which has put the fairly obscure governor onto Joe Biden’s list of potential vice president picks — is paying dividends so far. With schools planning to fully reopen at the end of August, that success will be put to the test.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories