COVID-19 deaths rise to 14 in RI; state setting up three makeshift hospitals

Coronavirus
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UPDATE: Gov. Gina Raimondo and officials will provide another update on the state’s coronavirus response on Saturday at 1 p.m. You can watch it live on WPRI 12, here on WPRI.com, or the WPRI 12 mobile app.

Key COVID-19 headlines for Friday:

  • Two new deaths, 14 total
  • At least 12 nursing homes with cases
  • 711 cases statewide
  • RI setting up three makeshift hospitals
  • Public now recommended to wear cloth masks

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo on Friday announced two new deaths and 54 more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the totals to 14 deaths and 711 cases in Rhode Island.

One of the new deaths happened at the Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence, representing the fifth death related to COVID-19 at the nursing home. The second death was not related to a nursing home.

“Nursing homes remain the most challenging settings right now,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said.

There are currently 65 COVID-19 cases at Golden Crest and 60 cases at Oak Hill Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Pawtucket.

In total, there are 12 nursing homes in Rhode Island with at least one resident with COVID-19, as the deadly disease continues to spread across the state. Among the cases so far tied to nursing homes, 120 are residents. Eight of the 14 deaths have been in congregate care settings, according to the health director.

In preparation for more cases and hospitalizations moving forward, Raimondo announced the state has identified three locations where the state is setting up makeshift hospitals to expand the number of available hospital beds by roughly 1,000.

The new hospitals will be set up at the R.I. Convention Center in Providence, the former Citizens Bank building in Cranston and the former Lowes building in Quonset. Raimondo said COVID-19 hospitalizations remained unchanged from the day before at 72, but the number quickly increased to 77 a few hours later after the state released new data from the hospitals.

“We are working very hard to make sure they are ready,” Raimondo said.

R.I. National Guard Adjutant Gen. Christopher Callahan said the state militia has activated more than 700 soldiers and airman to assist in the response so far, and could activate 300 more. Raimondo also made a plea for any retired health care workers — including nurses, doctors and physical therapists — to step up and help out in the response.

“We need to call you up,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo announced she would extend her order suspending childcare licenses until the end of April, saying she’s trying to figure out more solutions to meet the needs of working parents who’s children are at home.

“We haven’t found a solution that’s safe,” Raimondo said. “We’re not giving up.”

Raimondo also issued a sharp reminder that there is a stay-at-home order in place, meaning people must be in their homes unless leaving for essential reasons such as work, shopping and picking up medicine.

She pointed to a new social-distancing study that shows Rhode Islanders have not done well in following the state’s social-distancing order compared to neighboring states and the nationwide average. Rhode Island has cut down on movement by 36% compared to 41% nationally, she said.

Raimondo reminded people that the public health crisis is not a joke and disobeying the various orders could result in more people dying, especially as the contagious disease continues to spread.

“More people will die,” she said. “This is not just the flu.”

In a change of guidance, Alexander-Scott said the state is now recommending Rhode Islanders should wear cloth masks in public to reduce transmission.

The medical advice has shifted across the United States, as public health officials last month said wearing masks in public could increase the chances of getting the disease. They are now now telling citizens that wearing masks could reduce the possibility of spreading the disease.

But Alexander-Scott said this change does not mean that people should start scouring for hospital masks, such as the widely sought N95 masks that health care providers are grappling to access across the country.

“At this time, people in the general public should not be purchasing or hoarding [the masks],” she said.

Updating an earlier announcement about a new food-delivery services through RIDelivers.com, Raimondo said it has been inundated with orders since it first launched earlier this week and the wait is currently two to three days. There was more than 40,000 request for delivered meals in one day.

In an effort to make sure older people and individuals in quarantine can access food safely in their homes, the governor urged people who are young and health — or those who able family members — to still go shopping at physical grocery stores.

“If it’s the only way you can get food … go to R-I-delivers and we’ll do our best to get it to you quickly,” she added.

In a nod to the growing number of small businesses currently struggling to stay afloat during a time when many have been ordered to shut down, Raimondo said the new federal Payroll Protection Program is now up and running through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The governor urged all small-business owners looking for cash to reach out to their bankers to file an application for the program, which was established as part of the federal $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from you,” she said.

The number of unemployment claims have increased by more than 100,000 within the last month, which has likely pushed the unemployment rate above 20% in Rhode Island. The trend — among other issues related to the global pandemic — is fueling a rise in the number of people struggling with mental illness, Raimondo said.

“It’s going to get tougher as more people are out of work longer,” she said. “We’re going to see more anxiety, depression, etc.”

The governor urged anyone who is experiencing mental or behavior health issues to reach out to 414-LINK for adults and Kids’ Link for children at 1-855-543-5465 for referrals to service.

Additionally, Raimondo announced the state’s insurance companies have established a new $5 million fund at the Rhode Island Foundation that will go toward nonprofits working on mental health and behavioral issues related to COVID-19 in Rhode Island.

That money will be made available beginning on April 6.

Raimondo also said her daily briefings could look a little different beginning Monday. To date, the governor and her cabinet members have held the briefings behind closed doors at the State House, and reporters have been asked to submit questions remotely.

Based on feedback from journalists, Raimondo said she will tweak the format slightly to allow for more back-and-forth between state leaders and members of the media.

Raimondo spokesperson Josh Block said the governor will have an additional 15-minute conference call with reporters after the televised briefing, which can be broadcast afterward.

“While we would always prefer live, in-person press conferences, this is an unprecedented situation and it is important that we follow the guidance of our public health officials,” Block wrote in an email. “There is no perfect solution, but we have done our best to be responsive to feedback.”

Live Streaming Monday: Coronavirus Coverage

1 p.m. RI Gov. Gina Raimondo Briefing | 3:30 p.m. Gov. Charlie Baker briefing

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