Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing:
- 12 more dead; death toll now 251
- Total new COVID-19 cases ticks up to 321
- Dead patients removed from discharges number
- Many major summer events won’t happen
- Governor lays out possible uses of $1.25 billion
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health announced Wednesday that 12 more Rhode Islanders have died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s coronavirus death toll to 251, as Gov. Gina Raimondo gave the crushing news that large events won’t be allowed this summer.
The dozen newly announced fatalities included one person in their 50s, one in their 60s, three in their 70s, four in their 80s and three in their 90s. Nine of the 12 lived in congregate care settings such as nursing homes.
The Health Department reported 321 new positive coronavirus cases, for a total of 8,247 confirmed cases in the state since March 1. The governor suggested if Rhode Islanders continue to adhere to her stay-at-home order through May 9, the state will then be able to begin the first phase of reopening.
“We appear to be at a plateau,” she said. “We aren’t seeing a decline, and we aren’t seeing an increase. That’s good news.” But, she said, “it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. … I’m waiting for the day when we start to see a decline.”
More industry-specific information about reopening the economy is expected to be announced starting Monday.
There are currently 269 people in the hospital. Of those patients, 80 are in the ICU and 55 are on ventilators.
The number of Rhode Island coronavirus patients listed as having been discharged from the hospital at any point dropped overnight from 466 to 391, after Target 12 revealed the state had been counting those who died at the hospital as discharges.
Responding to Target 12’s report, R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the agency is now changing how it reports the numbers “so that the data align with how people who may not work with health data on a regular basis, or may have naturally understood that differently, can now understand how we are describing the word ‘discharge.'”
“We definitely want to be clear,” she added.
Alexander-Scott also said Rhode Island’s African-American and Latino residents are being hospitalized with coronavirus at a significantly higher rate than its non-Hispanic Caucasian residents, though death rates have been generally consistent across races.
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At her daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Raimondo gave the news many had feared — large events won’t be feasible in Rhode Island this summer due to ongoing concerns about transmission of coronavirus.
“In good conscience, I cannot stand here and tell you that you’re going to be able to have those events in June, in July, in August, the way you hoped to have,” Raimondo said, adding glumly, “My stomach is in a knot.”
The upshot: no Newport Jazz or Folk Festivals, whose organizers confirmed Wednesday they are cancelled for 2020. No traditional Bristol 4th of July or Gaspee Day parades, according to the governor. No concerts. No weddings that would involve more than 50 guests. (Raimondo did say there’s an outside chance gatherings of up to 100 could be allowable by August.)
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During a follow-up conference call with reporters, the governor said she would “absolutely” revisit the directives if the coronavirus situation improves more quickly than expected, “but I don’t want to be dishonest” about how likely that is.
“There’s no way that an event with tens of thousands of people all squished together on a lawn is going to be allowed to happen in July,” she said, adding, “If you’re planning on running a huge concert with thousands of people in July, I can’t honestly look you in the eye and say you’re going to be able to do that.”
However, she said she expects to make a more “hopeful” announcement this Friday about Rhode Islanders’ ability to use the state’s parks and beaches this summer.
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In addition to discussing summer events, Raimondo spent a significant portion of Wednesday’s briefing starting to lay out her plans for how the state will spend roughly $1.57 billion in new federal relief aid that is flowing into the state due to COVID-19.
Raimondo spoke hours after holding a conference call with Rhode Island’s four members of Congress, during which both she and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed suggested the governor has the unilateral authority to allocate $1.25 billion from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. Lawmakers are slated to start examining her emergency spending decisions at a hearing Thursday.
Offering a “very preliminary” look at her priorities for that money, Raimondo said it will be applied toward “very direct costs” of the crisis such as buying personal protective equipment and boosting pay for front-line workers, as well as “secondary effects” including help to industries hit hard by the economic shutdown.
The state plans to create an online portal within a month where residents will be able to see exactly how the money is spent, according to the governor. The federal government will also be requiring monthly reports on how it is used starting this summer.
Democrats in Congress, including Rhode Island’s delegation, are pushing for another spending bill that would include additional funding for states that could be used to shore up their regular budgets. Republican leaders have in recent days expressed a wary openness to the idea.
Thursday’s coronavirus briefing will be a student press conference where the governor will have a live Q&A session for pre-K to 12th-grade students at 1 p.m. The regularly scheduled Rhode Island coronavirus briefing will be back Friday at 1 p.m.