This year’s summer season touted as an escape from COVID is bringing a boomerang effect as concerns arise about a potential resurgence of the virus.
The Delta variant is more than a prediction, it now a statistic.
For instance, New York Times tracking data shows Rhode Island having an overall 289% increase in reported COVID-19 cases when comparing the past two weeks to early July. Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown so far have been spared the brunt of it.
From June 20 to July 17, these towns mostly have seen new reported cases of five or less per week. However, that is no reason to let go of caution, say health officials.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said early this week that vaccines — not masks — will be the certain cure in the long run.
“If you don’t want to get sick and die, get vaccinated,” he said, noting that those unvaccinated will have the roughest time with the variant while anyone vaccinated would not have the same severe reactions.
Advocacy of Vaccinations
Many local business owners agree that they have strongly benefited from a vaccine that has enabled many people to return shopping, going out to restaurants and patronizing businesses that might have avoided because of fear about catching the disease.
However, these local business are split regarding whether they should advocate that customers get the vaccine that has helped their profit margins to increase.
Casey Montanari, owner of Bike Shop Café in Narragansett, said that such advocacy could offend some customers.
“Businesses taking a stance and pushing their customers toward it, I think they will alienate or risk alienating their customers because there are strong opinions and people may take it out on the restaurant,” she said.
George McAuliffe is business manager of the Mews restaurant where many University of Rhode Island students can be found when school is in session as well as packed with tourists in the summer, visitors to the area in the off-season and local residents all year long.
“It’s not our intention to tell people what to do, but we encourage it,” he said, adding that advocating for people to get it “creates potential issues and falls into the realm of political activity.”
On the other hand, Kevin Durfee, owner of the tourist-packed waterfront George’s of Galilee restaurant in Point Judith, said that he believes advocacy is warranted because businesses are benefiting from widespread vaccination efforts.
He said he also doesn’t want to see more restrictions, which have hurt business when in force.
At the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Joe Viele took a more middle-of-the-road stance.
“Would businesses advocate vaccinations? I don’t know that they see their role in that,” but he acknowledged that vaccinations have led to a strong return of business to retail, restaurant and amusement parks.
“I think most business people are hands off. They respect that it’s an individual thing. They would hope that the individuals make the choice that’s best for everybody,” he said.
Restriction Storm Clouds
About 66% of all Rhode Islanders have received at least one vaccine dose and about 61% have received both doses, according the state Department of Health. Hospitalizations remain low.
Local business owners said they see no need right now for the return of restrictions, but remain wary that they are gone for good. Some said they fear the government will step in again with them, a move that cost them profits during most of last year and the early part of this year.
While they and many others have praised the state for achieving this compliance, state officials remain cautious about an infiltration by the Delta variant.
“We are fortunate right now we are still very much in control of the situation with our vaccinations,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “We are not expecting any real danger points to hit Rhode Island, but we certainly are planning for that if it happens.”
The first measure to watch is hospitalizations, he said, and any significant increases. While he didn’t publicly put a number on that indicator, health professionals said a dramatic rise would be the trigger.
A downward slide began June 12 and has not returned to those previously higher numbers. While COVID-19-related hospital admissions vary weekly after that date, average is about 18 people every seven days as of July 17.
“We just stay on top of it, and if there is a need to change direction, we will let people know,” McKee said.
“We are not looking to move backwards, in terms of reopening the economy or reopening the schools,” he said. “We are diligently working on safely reopening the schools. If for some reason you have to backtrack on that, we are prepared to do that, but I don’t see that in the cards right now.”
It is a sentiment that finds understanding in Steve Brophy, owner of Brinkley’s ice cream stands in Wakefield and Narragansett.
“I’m aware of it. I know it’s out there and keep your eyes open about it. That’s where I’m at right now. I have a concern, but it’s not been at the top of my head. Here in Rhode Island they’ve done a good job,” he said.