Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing:
- 5 more dead; total now 155
- 2nd-biggest daily spike in cases
- Hospitalizations up, ICU use down
- 6 metrics released to reopen economy
- New food money for low-income parents
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island identified 339 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, snapping a two-day streak of declining positive tests, as five more residents succumbed to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
At her daily briefing, Gov. Gina Raimondo said the spike in cases — the second-largest one-day increase so far — should not alarm residents. “We know we’re still in the part of the curve where we’re on the incline, not the decline,” she said. “It’s consistent with what we’ve been seeing.”
Fresh data from the Health Department showed 272 Rhode Islanders hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Monday, up from 254 on Sunday. However, the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU declined to 62. The number on ventilators was slightly higher at 45.
“We have flattened the curve, slowed the curve, and brought down the peak — which is all fantastic news and a great relief and a great credit to the people of Rhode Island,” Raimondo said.
The Health Department says 5,090 Rhode Islanders have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 1, and 155 residents have died after contracting the disease, most of them in nursing homes. A majority of the dead were in their 80s, while a majority of those who’ve been hospitalized have been in their 60s. Of the five new deaths, one was in their 60s, one in their 80s, and one in their 90s.
Noting that Rhode Island has one of the highest per-capita testing rates in the country and is close to opening temporary field hospitals, Raimondo said, “If you look at where we are today versus where we could have been … it should give you great confidence.”
After participating in a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence and the other governors earlier Monday, Raimondo said the White House told states the CDC will soon be sending teams to help them set up “surveillance testing” — ongoing broad-based COVID-19 testing across the population to quickly determine if an flare-up is occurring.
Rhode Island is currently testing over 2,000 people a day for coronavirus, but Raimondo said she thinks that number needs to rise as the economy reopens. “We’re trying to figure out, how do we do that?” she said. Antibody testing is also being explored to see how many have already been exposed.
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Raimondo focused her 1 p.m. news conference on the state’s plans for starting to reopen the economy once the current stay-at-home order expires May 8. She is hoping to see a decline in the rate of coronavirus infections between now and then.
The governor released a list of six indicators that will be watched closely to determine how to do so.
Residents are going to have to be “brave” in order to go to work, go out to eat, get their hair done or engage in other economic activity while the virus is still a threat, she said. “Until we have a vaccine, which is about a year away, we’re going to be living under a new set of circumstances,” she said.
“We never again want to be in a position where I need to do what we’ve just lived through, what we’re living through now, which is a complete shutdown across the board rapidly,” Raimondo said, though she acknowledged doing so again was a possibility if a sudden surge in cases occurs.
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The governor pointed to two “headwinds” Rhode Island faces in fighting coronavirus: its status as one of the densest states in the country, which makes social distancing more difficult, and its population being one of the oldest in the nation, a challenge because coronavirus is more lethal to the elderly. In addition, lower-income workers have been hit hardest by the economic downturn.
Speaking of the bans on large social gatherings, Raimondo said, “We’re not going to go from five to 50 overnight … but we’re going to get there, and we’re going to go as fast as is safely possible.” Colleges, child care centers, churches and others will be asked for detailed plans about how they will maintain social distancing.
She said Rhode Island will be following a similar approach to the White House guidance released last week for reopening the economy, including doing so in phases and watching for a 14-day decline in new cases.
“I predict four, six, nine months from now, when we are back to work a bit more, living our lives a bit more, you will be able to see that Rhode Island has stayed at the cutting edge,” she said.
With data showing coronavirus hitting Latino residents disproportionately hard, R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said it might be in part because they make up a significant share of the work force in essential industries, though it could also have to do with socioeconomic factors such as housing stability or poverty.
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U.S. Sen. Jack Reed announced Sunday that Rhode Island will receive additional federal funding from one of the recent coronavirus spending bills to give extra money for food to parents with school-age children who receive free or reduced lunch.
The governor said the amount is $5.70 per child per day that school is closed, retroactive to March 16, meaning about $200 per child so far.
Families that already receive SNAP benefits should get the money immediately on their EBT cards, while others will get cards on May 1, according to the governor’s office. Parents who do not need the money — notably in Providence, where all public school students are eligible for free meals regardless of income — are asked to destroy the card so the money can be returned.
With growing talk of a potential protest against the governor’s stay-at-home order, she said even protestors must adhere to social distancing guidelines, and any groups of five or more would be broken up.