This Just In: Looking back on the 'pause,' and trying to explain our strange geography

Good afternoon and welcome to This Just In. I'm Mike McDermott, managing editor of The Providence Journal. The big national news today comes from Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse – who fatally shot two men and wounded another during a protest last year – was found not guilty on all charges stemming from the incident.

Today is Nov. 19; exactly a year ago, then Gov.-Gina Raimondo announced that Rhode Island would go into a two-week "pause," beginning a week after Thanksgiving, due to the raging COVID pandemic. The "pause" ended up lasting three weeks and did eventually lead to a temporary decline in new coronavirus cases, which began rising again after the December holidays.

Today, the Rhode Island Department of Health reported three more coronavirus-related deaths and 588 additional cases of COVID-19, along with 15,758 negative tests, for a 3.6% positive rate. There were 113 COVID-positive patients in Rhode Island hospitals at last count, up from 107 reported yesterday, with 20 in intensive care. Rhode Island has reported an average of 447 new cases a day over the last seven days, up 44% from a week ago and up 87% from two weeks ago. (On Nov. 19, 2020, the state was averaging 884 cases a day, with 356 COVID-positive hospital patients.)

Even as the state looks to keep the latest case surge from becoming something much worse, a small number of health-care workers were back in federal court seeking to have the state's vaccination mandate blocked.

Knightsville in Cranston and Pascoag in Burrillville don't have that much in common; the former is an urban neighborhood with a strong Italian-American heritage, and the latter is a village that sprung up around a sawmill early in the 18th century. But they share a mystery in common: both places were once depicted on maps as "Monkeytown," and no one seems to agree on why. As Paul Edward Parker reports, the possible explanations range from the preposterous to the offensive to the surprisingly mundane. And while Monkeytown may be one of the strangest place names in the state's history, but it's certainly not the only strange one.

Lifespan, Rhode Island's largest employer, has hired the onetime most powerful politician in the state as a lobbyist, while the health-care company seeks approval of its merger with rival Care New England. Former House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello will make $2,000 a month lobbying for Lifespan, Patrick Anderson reports.

For the first time, a formerly incarcerated person is serving on the Rhode Island Parole Board. Gov. Dan McKee has appointed Peter Slom, who served a six-year sentence for dealing cocaine in the 1990s before changing his life to focus on helping people with substance-use disorders.

Earlier this month, Jim Hummel reported on a Coventry couple who were caught in a bureaucratic maze trying to recoup $21,000 they paid to a deadbeat contractor whose registration was later suspended. It turns out that a different Coventry couple had complained about the same contractor, Raymond Oliver, back in February after he took $60,000 from them for a job he never finished.

If you're traveling on Thanksgiving week, the weather shouldn't create too much of an impediment, although Monday looks like a wet one.

Rhode Island is the nation's smallest state (as you may have heard) but we punch above our weight in a lot of areas, and one of them is our number of historic diners.

We also have plenty of great food trucks, and Amy Russo spotlights one of them, Johnny's Chimi's Place on Broad Street in Providence, for her latest New to RI column.

And in his Walking RI column, John Kostrzewa takes a coastal hike along the Touisset Marsh in Warren.

Last night's NFL game made one thing very clear: the Atlanta Falcons aren't very good. But was it also evidence that the New England Patriots are legit Super Bowl contenders? The idea doesn't seem so crazy anymore.

When it comes to high-school football, the Super Bowl is now. Eric Rueb has a full weekend of covering games ahead of him but first, he offers these six important thoughts – like which teams have the best cheering sections and uniforms.

Have a great weekend. And remember, if you enjoy This Just In, please encourage a friend to sign up.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Looking back on the 'pause,' and trying to explain our strange geography