Covid cases continue to rise
Covid cases are on the rise across the country as the highly transmissible Omicron variant makes the rounds. With Omicron making up 60 percent of cases in the state, Rhode Island is no exception, as Director of the Block Island Medical Center, Dr. Tom Warcup, explained to the New Shoreham Town Council at its first meeting of the new year, Tuesday, January 4.
Calling the increase in cases a “surge,” Dr. Warcup told the council that the state’s positivity rate had increased to 16.7 percent, with positive cases statewide tripling since mid-December. Hospitalizations have also doubled in the state, according to Warcup. He reported a “variety of cases including adults and children” on the island, but said with the increase in home testing being done it was “difficult to get a grasp” on the exact number of cases. The Rhode Island Department of Health lists 140 positive cases for New Shoreham, up from 130 last week. After hovering around 100 cases through the month of November, 2021, Block Island has seen cases steadily rise through December and into January.
When asked if home testing resulted in inflated numbers as people were counted as a positive case on their home test and then again if they went to the medical center, Dr. Warcup said he knew of more than a dozen “unique individual” cases. He also said that for individuals to be counted in the state database as positive from a home test, they had to self-report the results to the Department of Health. Warcup said he did not know if people were self-reporting or not.
Council Member Keith Stover asked if the positivity numbers were still a useful metric as the pandemic becomes endemic. Warcup agreed with Stover’s sentiment, saying that we needed to move from “testing, testing, testing,” to “vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.” He went on to say that Covid is endemic and would meet the actual definition of an endemic disease soon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “endemic refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease.” The level at which a disease is constantly present in a given population is the “endemic level.” The CDC points out that an endemic level of a disease may not necessarily be the desired level, as the desired level might be zero. The endemic level is just the baseline. An epidemic is an increase in the number of cases of a disease above the baseline. A pandemic is defined by the CDC as an epidemic that has
spread over several countries or continents.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, the endemic level in the population went from zero to very high, and spread across most countries and much of the world, prompting the use of the term pandemic. As the world adjusts to the reality that there will be a baseline level of Covid infection, the term endemic will begin to supplant the word pandemic to describe this new reality.
Second Warden Sven Risom asked if hospitalizations are more of a “tipping point” or “key indicator” we should look at, rather than positivity rates. Warcup said that it was concerning that the number of hospitalizations in the state had gone from 168 in mid-December to 347 as of January 4. He said the rise in hospitalizations was primarily due to unvaccinated individuals with only a few breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals requiring hospitalization. Warcup agreed with Risom, saying, “hospitalizations are a better marker than percent positivity.”
While admitting that the desire to “test incessantly” could contribute to a sense of panic, Warcup said he didn’t want to stop having testing available, as this could be seen as giving validation to “people that aren’t interested in public safety, or mask wearing, or vaccinations.”
Warcup encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, get boosters, and to “please wear masks.”