Key takeaways from Monday’s RI COVID-19 briefing:
- 10 more dead, 73 total; 311 new cases
- 197 hospitalized, down slightly from Sunday
- 6-state council formed to reopen the economy
- New $10 million loan pool already maxed out
- Announcement this week on rest of school year
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that 10 more Rhode Islanders have died due to COVID-19, the highest-one day total so far, even as the number of people hospitalized due to the disease dipped slightly compared to Sunday.
There were 197 people in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Monday, Raimondo said, down from 201 on Sunday. An additional 311 have tested positive for coronavirus in the last day.
“Although these numbers are increasing rapidly, it’s not alarming because we have widespread community transfer and we really ramped up our testing,” Raimondo said at her daily coronavirus briefing.
The latest data means 73 people have died in Rhode Island — 55 connected to nursing homes — and 2,976 people have tested positive since the state reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 1. The deaths are being described as “COVID-19-associated” by the Department of Health.
The 10 newly announced fatalities included two people in their 50s, one in their 70s, five in their 80s and one in their 90s, according to R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. All but two were associated with nursing homes, which have been suffering disproportionately.
The hardest-hit nursing home has been North Providence’s Golden Crest Nursing Centre, where 19 people have died due to COVID-19, followed by Pawtucket’s Oak Hill (16 deaths) and East Providence’s Orchard View Manor (six deaths).
On a more positive note, Alexander-Scott disclosed for the first time that 331 COVID-19 patients in total have been hospitalized in Rhode Island at some point during the crisis, meaning that roughly 134 have recovered enough to be discharged so far.
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Minutes after her own daily media briefing, Raimondo joined five of her fellow Northeast governors on a midday conference call led by New York’s Andrew Cuomo to discuss a regional plan for reopening the economy.
The governors — representing Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware — agreed that while they are all anxious to lift restrictions, they need to avoid doing so in a way that leads to coronavirus infections surging anew. They are now creating a six-state regional advisory council to work out the details.
“We’re all learning, right?” said Cuomo, who spearheaded the partnership. “This is all new for us. … The state boundaries mean very little to this virus.”
Each governor’s chief of staff will be part of the advisory council, as will a health official and an economic development official from each state.
“I am confident that by working together and sharing our best ideas we will be much more likely to get it right,” Raimondo said on the call, adding, “This virus doesn’t care about state borders, and our response shouldn’t, either.”
The coordinated effort by the governors comes as President Trump is insisting he is the one who has final authority to reopen the economy.
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In the meantime, Raimondo continued to urge business owners to apply for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s new Payroll Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to employers affected by coronavirus.
The governor also highlighted a new $10 million loan pool, announced earlier Monday, that Goldman Sachs has funded for Rhode Island employers that have not been able to get a PPP loan through a traditional bank or lender.
“I’ll be the first to admit this is a good thing, but a far from perfect thing,” Raimondo said.
But the new program had already stopped accepting new applicants by 3 p.m. Monday after receiving $10 million in qualified applications during its first seven hours in operation.
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Raimondo said she has 10 teams working on various aspects of the coronavirus crisis on subjects such as procuring personal protective gear, hospitals, stimulus, data, modeling, contact-tracing, quarantines, and technology.
On testing, Rhode Island averaged 2,068 tests per day last week and has now conducted more than 20,000 tests in total, according to the governor, who said the state is now among the leaders in the country for testing per capita. (The testing sites were closed Monday due to severe weather.)
“This is a remarkable accomplishment,” she said, thanking those who have worked on the effort. She said the next steps she is eyeing are creating testing sites in inner city areas, and rolling out mobile testing to bring it directly to nursing homes and other hard-hit facilities.
On unemployment benefits, Raimondo told out-of-work Rhode Islanders she was “begging for your patience” as the Department of Labor and Training works through roughly 144,000 claims that have been submitted in little over a month. She said the goal continues to be processing claims within seven to 14 days after they’re filed.
On schools, Raimondo said she’ll have an update later this week about the plan for the rest of the academic year, following a conference call with superintendents Tuesday. She also announced the Rhode Island Foundation has committed over $100,000 to provide computers and Wi-Fi hotspots to students in need of help.
Nursing homes continue to need staffing help, especially as employees with symptoms are forced to stay home rather than go in to work. Alexander-Scott asked retired nurses and other professionals who are available to sign up at RIResponds.org.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Wingate had seen 15 deaths due to coronavirus; the facility has had 15 cases, not deaths.