Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing:
- 16 more dead; total is now 171
- 394 new cases, highest one-day total yet
- Roughly 2 million masks now available
- Brown dorm rooms for front-line workers
- Decision on school year later this week
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 394 Rhode Islanders have tested positive for COVID-19, the highest one-day total since the pandemic began, while an additional 16 residents have died after contracting the disease, the R.I. Health Department revealed Tuesday.
Despite the rise in cases, Gov. Gina Raimondo said at her daily coronavirus briefing, “Clearly we are flattening the curve. Clearly the peak isn’t going to be as bad as it could have been.” She argued residents’ sacrifices and adherence to social distancing have paid off.
The governor’s optimism was echoed by Dr. Jay Schuur, chair of emergency medicine at Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital. “We will not overwhelm hospital capacity,” he wrote after reviewing Tuesday’s data, while cautioning that social distancing remained imperative.
Added Raimondo, “We absolutely have to stay home. It is not time to take our foot off the accelerator.” While she again said she hopes to begin lifting some restrictions once her current stay-at-home order expires May 8, she warned some form of social distancing is likely for the next year.
Even as Rhode Island is now testing more people for COVID-19 per capita than any state in the nation, the number of tests coming back positive — known as the positivity rate — continues coming back high, at roughly 17% in the last 24 hours. Experts argue that shows more testing is needed.
Starting today, Rhode Island’s first walk-up testing site will be available in Providence. The state says it aims to help the Latino community, which makes up 45% of RI’s positive cases.
A total of 5,500 Rhode Island residents have now tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus since March 1, according to the department. The state’s death toll now stands at 171.
The additional 16 deaths announced Tuesday included six people who died Monday and 10 who died in the prior days; all but three were tied to congregate care facilities. The dead included one person in their 30s, two in their 50s, four in their 70s, three in their 80s, and six in their 90s.
The majority of those who’ve died have been nursing home residents. R.I. Health Department Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott acknowledged “many” are dying at their nursing homes, while a few have died in hospitals, and said it is rare to have ventilators available for treatment at a nursing home.
The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized with the disease was barely changed Tuesday at 271, with the number of patients in the ICU and on ventilators also close to Monday’s totals. Of the 576 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Rhode Island at some point, 315 have been discharged home.
The governor said two of the state’s new temporary field hospitals — one at the R.I. Convention Center and one at the old Citizens Bank offices in Cranston — are now ready to accept patients if necessary, though she acknowledged right now their roughly 1,000 beds are not needed. She said they may be needed if there is a second surge of infections, potentially in the fall.
Alexander-Scott reinforced the longstanding guidance for citizens, urging them to maintain a daily contacts log and to get tested if they feel sick. She also suggested alerting colleagues, friends and family if someone decides to go get a test.
Asked how long the virus survives on and can be transmitted from surfaces, Alexander-Scott said, “We are still learning how robust and how sturdy the virus is.” She said it’s important to clean high-touch surfaces frequently and to wear a cloth face-covering.
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Raimondo announced Tuesday that Rhode Island now has about 2 million surgical masks on hand after officials had to “scour the world” to buy them on the private market. She said medical workers will now be able to change their masks each day, addressing a complaint from front-line personnel who have had to reuse their masks for multiple days.
The state has spent $35 million to $40 million buying personal protective equipment so far, according to R.I. Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley, who said the cost would all be covered by the federal government.
Separately on Tuesday, Rhode Island’s General Assembly leaders announced a new joint House-Senate task force that will review all emergency COVID-19 spending. It will begin meeting next week, though it’s not clear whether the first gathering will be in-person or virtual.
Raimondo announced that as of Tuesday, the state is partnering with Brown University to provide more than 700 dorm rooms available for free to front-line workers who can’t or don’t want to go home at night because they fear they’re contagious and could infect their families. Hotels had been available to them on RIHavens.com, but they were required to pay at least $25 a night for those.
Workers who are interested should talk to their employers about what’s available, she said.
Asked about schools, Raimondo said she was not yet prepared to follow the lead of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who announced Tuesday that schools there will not reopen this school year. Describing the decision as “a tough call,” she said she’ll make an announcement by the end of the week.
“It is difficult to imagine how we could safely allow 500, 600, 700, 800, 1,200 kids in a building at the same time in this environment,” she said.
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For out-of-work Rhode Islanders, Raimondo highlighted the Skills for Rhode Island’s Future website that lists job openings around the state.
The R.I. Department of Labor and Training on Sunday launched a new website, built using Amazon Web Services, for claimants to certify for their weekly unemployment benefits. The streamlined site handled 75,000 claims on Sunday, according to DLT Director Scott Jensen, who answered questions about it in Tuesday’s new “12 Responds” video.
Roughly 170,000 Rhode Islanders have filed for unemployment since early March, an unprecedented number. “We’re going to get you all back to work,” Raimondo said Tuesday. “But in the meantime we’re also going to make sure you get the support you need in order to get through it.”
Looking ahead, Raimondo urged businesses to begin thinking about how they will change their operations if the stay-at-home order is lifted after May 8 and some enterprises are allowed to reopen. That could include keeping people further about, deeper cleaning, temperature checks, and alternative shifts for workers.
“We’re going to have to give people confidence,” she said.
The governor also highlighted a good deed: an individual who donated their entire $1,200 federal rebate check to the Rhode Island Foundation to help people hurt by COVID-19.