PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s little kids can go out for Halloween, but the big kids are essentially grounded because they haven’t been following the rules.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Wednesday delivered some good news for youngsters, saying that trick-or-treating will be allowed despite the pandemic -- with recommended restrictions.
“The show will go on this year,” she said. “There will be Halloween in Rhode Island.”
But Raimondo took a different tone with college-age Rhode Islanders who have driven up the state’s COVID-19 rates in recent weeks.
She warned college students not to hold Halloween house parties, saying, “Don’t do it. Don’t even try it. We will bust your party. We will fine everybody 500 bucks. Don’t even think about it.”
On Wednesday, Raimondo displayed a chart showing COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island by age group over the past two months. While the chart showed the number of new cases remaining constant or declining for most age groups, it showed a sharp spike in cases among those 19 to 24 years old in mid-September.
“It’s notable, it’s obvious, it jumps off the page,” Raimondo said.
She said the good news is that the rate of new cases among young adults has begun to return to previous levels. But she said the bad news is that case investigations have revealed that the increase stems from college students who are still socializing with different groups of friends without wearing face masks.
Raimondo spoke directly to that 19- to 24-year-old age group.
“You may be young and healthy,” she said, “but you are spreading this to people who aren’t young and healthy.”
Raimondo told college students they must adhere to public health protocols “for the sake of your loved ones” and “for the sake of the rest of the Rhode Island community.” She said she has heard from many restaurant and hotel owners whose businesses are hurting because the outbreaks among college students placed Rhode Island back on the travel restriction lists for states such as Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
The governor said it is essential that college students keep their social groups small and wear face masks if they are going to hang out with different groups of friends.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, said that between Sept. 15 and 21, Rhode Island saw 685 new coronavirus cases, and of those, 203 involved residents who were 19 to 24 years old. So that age bracket represented 30 percent of the total new cases, even though that age group makes up just 9 percent of the state’s population, she said.
That marked a sharp increase from the week before, when there were just 81 cases among 19-to-24-year-olds, representing 14 percent of more than 600 total new cases, she said.
Raimondo announced that she is forming a “young adult task force” led by students from colleges across Rhode Island, as well as representatives from high-density communities where many of the colleges are located. The group will come up with recommendations for communicating public health guidance “in a way that is clear and effective and drives behavior change among these college students,” she said.
On Sept. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people to forgo door-to-door trick-or-treating, costume parties, and public hayrides for lower-risk activities such as pumpkin-carving at home or virtual costume contests.
But Raimondo said trick-or-treating won’t be canceled in Rhode Island.
“We want Halloween to go on,” Alexander-Scott said. “But it has to be done differently this year, just like so many other things.”
First and foremost, families must ensure that children are not sick or displaying any COVID-19 symptoms before they go door-to-door, and those who go trick-or-treating should stay in small, stable groups, she said.
Those expecting trick-or-treaters should not open the door and let children grab from a bowl of candy, she said. Rather, people can leave individually wrapped bags of candy outside or they can spread out individual pieces of wrapped candy on a baking sheet, she said. The goal is to ensure that no one is touching a piece of candy more than once, she said.
People at home should wash their hands regularly, and those going house-to-house should bring hand sanitizer, she said.
Alexander-Scott emphasized that children should wear clear face masks and that Halloween masks should not be used as a substitute for cloth face coverings. She said people might want to paint their faces and design a face covering that goes with their costume.
“The Halloween mask is not enough,” Alexander-Scott said. “Please make sure that we continue to mask. That is the critical tool to help make Halloween safe this year."
The Department of Health on Wednesday reported 173 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of positive tests to 24,748. The state reported one new death, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,114.
The daily positivity rate stood at 1.9 percent. Rhode Island had 103 people hospitalized with the virus, seven in intensive care, and six on respirators.
Raimondo said the state has not seen any hospitalizations related to the outbreaks at Providence College or URI, but she noted that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator. “We will keep eye on it,” she said.
In response to questions from reporters, Raimondo, a Democrat, said she did watch Tuesday night’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
“My primary thought is I really hope Joe Biden gets elected,” Raimondo said. “To me, he was the only one on the stage that was presidential. I am embarrassed to have a president who tacitly approves of racism and white supremacy, and as it relates to COVID, it was on full display that President Trump didn’t have a plan, and as a result we are all struggling. President Biden would have a plan.”