2 more die of COVID-19 in RI as cases spike; jobless benefits expand Tuesday

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Monday’s RI COVID-19 briefing:

  • 2 more dead, 27 total; 160 new cases
  • 109 hospitalized, 37 in ICU
  • CVS doubles RI’s daily testing capacity
  • COVID-19 jobless benefits sign-up Tuesday
  • Nursing home patients to be brought together

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that two more Rhode Islanders have died due to COVID-19 and 160 more people have tested positive, but said residents should take heart from the newly announced launch of a rapid-testing site run by CVS Health.

There are also 109 COVID-19 patients currently in the hospital, with 37 of them in the ICU and 26 of them intubated, according to the R.I. Department of Health.

“I’ve said all along these numbers are going to continue to go up,” Raimondo said, adding, “It’s serious — very serious … but this increase is not cause for panic. It’s totally consistent with what we’ve been planning for now for over a month.”

The latest data means 27 people have died and 1,082 people have tested positive in Rhode Island since the state reported its first case of COVID-19 March 1.

Ten of the deaths, including one of the two announced Monday, have been linked to Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence, according to Dr. James McDonald, medical director at the Health Department. The latest two people who died were in their 80s and 90s.

There are currently 17 nursing homes that have COVID-19 positive cases, according to the Health Department. A plan is currently being finalized to put all nursing home patients with COVID-19 together in the same facilities.

About one in three of the positive cases are health care workers, but none of them have died, according to McDonald.

Raimondo expressed excitement about the launch of CVS’s new rapid-testing site in the parking lot of Twin River Casino in Lincoln.

“Today is a good day in the fight against coronavirus in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said. Georgia and Rhode Island are the first two states doing this with CVS, which is based in Woonsocket.

CVS will be able to test 1,000 people a day and give them results in 15 minutes. The tests are by appointment for adult Rhode Island residents showing symptoms. No doctor’s note is needed. (Officials are asking people who don’t have symptoms not to sign up for a test just because they’re curious, citing limited capacity.)

• Details: Who can get a test – and how – at CVS’s new RI COVID-19 testing site »

“We have quite literally, overnight, doubled our testing capacity in the state of Rhode Island,” the governor said, calling it “a huge announcement.” She thanked CVS as well as members of her staff and the Rhode Island National Guard for getting the rapid-testing site up and running, calling it “a game-changer.”

Between the CVS site and the ones operated by the National Guard, Rhode Island will now be able to test more than 2,000 people a day, which Raimondo said would give it one of the highest per-capita testing rate in the country. The Department of Health said more than 1,300 COVID-19 tests were done on Sunday alone.

“We have widespread community spread of the virus — many, many, many of us are going to get sick,” she said.

CVS is using Abbott Laboratories’ new high-speed testing machines for its site, and the federal government has separately sent Rhode Island an additional 15 of the machines. But she said each machine was supposed to come with 150 test kits — for a total of 2,250 — and instead only 120 were provided.

Asked about the latest projections from the University of Washington — which now predict nearly 1,000 Rhode Islanders will die due to COVID-19 and the outbreak will peak in the state later this month — Raimondo said the school’s model has been updated after conferring with Rhode Island officials. She again declined to share the state’s own predictive modeling, but indicated she thinks the peak could be as late as mid-May.

“If anyone tells you they know exactly when Rhode Island’s peak is, and what the number of hospitalizations will be at that peak, they’re not being honest with you,” she said.

In addition, good news arrived Monday for some Rhode Islanders who are out of work.

Raimondo announced the R.I. Department of Labor and Training will begin accepting applications Tuesday at 8 a.m. for the new unemployment program created under the $2 trillion federal CARES Act. The program will offer jobless benefits to self-employed individuals, gig workers, independent contractors and others not covered by traditional unemployment insurance.

The CARES Act will also add another $600 a week to unemployment benefits for all workers through the end of July. That money is expected to be provided retroactive to March 28.

More than 100,000 Rhode Islanders have filed for unemployment benefits since March 9. Raimondo said DLT employees are working to get payments out as quickly as possible, and said anyone who has been waiting two weeks or so should expect to get their money “any day now.”

(Story continues below.)

Raimondo again asked Rhode Islanders to maintain a daily log of anyone they come in contact with, something she says will help the Department of Health do “contact tracing” for individuals who eventually test positive. “This is an unbelievable tool,” she said.

Contract tracing information is retained longer than 14 days but is protected by HIPAA and will not be used for any other purpose, according to Health Department leaders.

Too many Rhode Islanders were still leaving their homes regularly as of a week ago, according to the governor.

“We have been using cell phone information — publicly available information about people’s cell phones allows us to track how mobile people are, how much people are moving, and I said the last time I checked on that data about a week or so ago, we were moving too much,” she said.

Asked about the use of hydroxochloroquine to treat COVID-19, a hot topic as President Trump promotes it, McDonald noted there were limited studies about its effectiveness. Doctors have been given emergency authorization to try if they see fit, he said.

Eventually, Raimondo said, there will be blood tests to determine whether you previously had the novel coronavirus virus that causes COVID-19, and that will show how much of the population has immunity. “We are a ways from that … but it is coming,” she said.

Speaking to people of faith, Raimondo acknowledged the ongoing ban on religious services will be hard for Christians marking Holy Week and Jews preparing for Passover. She noted that many services are available online, and said prayers are still needed.

Raimondo said she did spot checks at a few stores on Sunday and was pleased to see most people keeping their distance as ordered. She said she is not currently planning to fine offenders, though she left the door open to that down the road if she deems it necessary.

For the first time, Raimondo followed the on-camera news briefing with a telephone conference call where reporters could ask follow-up questions. Reporters have been submitting questions remotely for the daily briefing because of health officials’ guidelines barring large gatherings.

Listen to the full audio of the governor’s conference call with reporters here:

Live Streaming Monday: Coronavirus Coverage

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

Watch all daily coronavirus updates here on WPRI.com or on the WPRI 12 mobile app » Go here to watch CBS News Coverage»

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