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Rhode Island is seeing a coronavirus spike. What does that mean for Connecticut?

FILE - Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo speaks about the state's response to COVID-19 in Providence, R.I., April 1, 2020.
FILE - Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo speaks about the state's response to COVID-19 in Providence, R.I., April 1, 2020. (Kayana Szymczak/The New York Times)

As Rhode Island inches closer to a threshold that will place it on Connecticut’s coronavirus travel advisory list, Connecticut officials worry a growing outbreak there could spill across the border.

“It’s disconcerting,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday. “It’s not just flare-ups in Florida or Texas, but there are now flare-ups next door to us in Rhode Island.”

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Rhode Island’s coronavirus cases have risen since early July, first gradually, then more quickly. According to state data, Rhode Island saw 139 new cases on Monday, its largest single-day total since the end of May.

As the new cases continue to add up, Rhode Island is approaching a line in the sand. If the state’s seven-day average of daily new cases rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, then Connecticut will add Rhode Island to its travel advisory list. As of Thursday, Rhode Island’s seven-day average was about 9.5 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

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Westchester, New York, resident Skyler Healy struggles with a wind-tossed umbrella at Jennings Beach, a public beach that is open to the public Monday through Friday but is open only to town residents on the weekend.
Westchester, New York, resident Skyler Healy struggles with a wind-tossed umbrella at Jennings Beach, a public beach that is open to the public Monday through Friday but is open only to town residents on the weekend. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant)

If Rhode Island qualifies for the travel advisory, it would be the first state within 200 miles of Connecticut to make the list. Most of the 34 states (plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) currently on the advisory are located outside of convenient driving distance from the Northeast.

Lamont said at his press conference Thursday that the same rules that have applied to faraway states would also apply to neighboring Rhode Island.

“The advisory list is based upon the metrics,” Lamont said. “No exceptions to that.”

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Visitors from states on the advisory list are required to either test negative for the coronavirus or quarantine for 14 days. Adding Rhode Island would have deep implications — particularly for residents who live in one state and work in the other.

Although the travel advisory has now been in place for more than a month, Lamont spokesperson Max Reiss said the state is uncertain what exactly would happen to workers if a neighboring state was added to the advisory.

The travel advisory specifically excludes travelers spending less than 24 hours in either a hot spot state or in Connecticut, but it’s unclear if that exemption would apply to workers repeatedly crossing back and forth. The advisory also exempts those who work in critical infrastructure — that exemption includes employees of Electric Boat, which has facilities within a 20-minute drive of the Rhode Island border.

Reiss said that the state Department of Public Health and the state Department of Economic and Community Development “remain in close communication, developing plans for how to address residents from neighboring states who may end up on the travel advisory.” He added that the state will provide more information when it updates the travel advisory list, which is expected to be on Tuesday.

Even if Rhode Island’s spike dissipates and the state is never placed on Connecticut’s advisory list, Lamont emphasized Thursday that he doesn’t want people traveling between the two states unnecessarily, including to visit either state’s beaches.

“The trend line is not good right now,” Lamont said. “That’s why we’ve asked people in Rhode Island, ‘enjoy your own beaches,’ and that’s why we’ve told people in Connecticut to stay closer to home as we can.”

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has made similar statements in recent weeks, and as recently as last week urged Connecticut and Massachusetts residents to avoid Rhode Island beaches.

But this week, amid the state’s rising cases, Raimondo turned her attention to Rhode Island residents.

In response to what she called a “small spike,” Raimondo on Wednesday extended the state’s reopening timeline and tightened the restrictions on social gatherings from a maximum to 25 people to a maximum of 15. She attributed the rise in cases to residents, particularly young people, “partying too much.”

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Connecticut officials have pointed to a similar trend of rising cases among young people, but the state has not seen a corresponding spike in overall cases.

Rhode Island has moved somewhat faster than Connecticut throughout the reopening process, launching its first phase on May 9 (as compared to May 20 for Connecticut) then progressing to phases two and three by the end of June.

Indoor dining in Rhode Island resumed about three weeks before indoor dining in Connecticut, and Rhode Island’s bars opened — with restrictions — even as Connecticut’s stayed closed. Rhode Island was also slower than Connecticut to impose a quarantine requirement for travelers from hot-spot states.

Still, Rhode Island experienced only low levels of COVID-19 through late June and early July, before cases began to rise again in recent weeks. Currently, the state’s average daily caseload is the highest it has been in nearly two months, according to The New York Times, with a particular concentration in Providence County.

The uptick spurred local doctors to raise alarm bells, the Providence Journal reported.

Dr. Jeremiah Schuur, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, told the Journal that residents “should be very concerned.” Schuur emphasized that the recently identified cases stem from spread from days ago, meaning that the numbers could continue to rise before people have a chance to change their behavior.

Emily Brindley can be reached at ebrindley@courant.com. Alex Putterman can be reached at aputterman@courant.com.

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