Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing:
- 3 more dead, 30 total; 147 new cases
- 123 hospitalized, 34 in ICU
- Dine-in ban, other executive orders extended
- 70,000 unemployment claims processed so far
- All residents asked to log daily contacts, travel
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday that three more Rhode Islanders have died due to COVID-19 and 147 more have tested positive, as she warned it will take time before life goes back to normal.
A total of 123 patients are currently hospitalized, up from 109 on Monday.
All three of the deaths announced Tuesday were tied to nursing homes that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the R.I. Health Department. One was a resident in their 70s at Oak Hill Center in Pawtucket, while the others were residents in their 70s and 90s who lived at Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence.
The latest data means 30 people have died in Rhode Island — 19 of them tied to nursing homes — and 1,229 people have tested positive since the state reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 1.
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R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said nursing home staff and all essential workers — such as fire, police, manufacturing and food personnel — should be wearing a cloth face covering that covers their noses and mouths while working.
Raimondo signed a new executive order requiring Rhode Island’s hospitals to give the state a daily update on how many coronavirus patients they are treating, how many tests they are doing, and how many supplies they have.
In addition, she extended a number of executive orders to May 8, including the prohibition on all social gatherings of five or more people; the requirement for all arriving travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days; the ban on dine-in service at food and drink establishments; the closure of recreation, entertainment and close-contact businesses; the 30-day limit for gun permit background checks; and the requirement that insurers cover telehealth.
Asked about reopening the economy, Raimondo said she will likely offer more information about her plan early next week. Her calculus would include testing availability, quarantine capacity, and hospital preparedness.
“I will say this: there’s not going to be a flick of the switch,” she said. “In no scenario will I or any governor or anyone be able to say, it’s back to normal tomorrow. It’s going to be a process, industry by industry — new regulations industry by industry — somewhat gradually, so that we can keep everybody safe.”
“As you can imagine, it’s going to be much more difficult to bring back online businesses who rely for their business upon large gatherings, as compared to other businesses in a more controlled environment,” she said.
Raimondo also said she will make an announcement about the long-term plan for schools and child care centers “in the coming weeks.”
In place until further notice are bans on visitors at nursing homes, hospitals, assisted-living facilities and the State House; the closure of state parks, beaches and casinos; and walk-in DMV services. Road tests are suspended.
Tuesday is the first day that the state is accepting applications for the temporary emergency COVID-19 unemployment benefits program set up to cover “gig economy” workers, the self-employed, independent contractors and others not eligible for traditional benefits. Nearly 10,000 people had filed an application by mid-afternoon, just hours after they started being accepted.
Raimondo acknowledged the frustrations of many out-of-work Rhode Islanders who are experiencing typical waits of seven to 14 days to get their unemployment benefits. She said about 70,000 of the more than 100,000 new claims for benefits that have been submitted since March 9 have now been processed, and work is ongoing to speed things up and enlist more workers to help.
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Raimondo reiterated some of her key ongoing messages Tuesday, telling Rhode Islanders to keep a daily written log of anywhere they go and anyone they have contact with in case they contract COVID-19 and the Department of Health has to do contact tracing.
“It is not enough to have a mental list,” Raimondo said. “You won’t remember unless you write it down.” She added, “It’s getting to the point where you may not get tested unless you show up with a list.”
She acknowledged people are likely wearying of the directives after weeks of crisis, but said Rhode Islanders “have to be vigilant.” She asked residents to wash their hands constantly, not touch their faces, use a cloth face covering when out in public, wipe down surfaces every few hours, and cough into their elbows.
“We’re going to be doing that for the next year,” Raimondo said.
“This is getting old right about now,” she said. “We’ve been at it for about five or six weeks and it’s really hard.”
The governor made another appeal for workers who feel sick to stay home, no matter how essential their job or how serious their symptoms, and even if they test negative for COVID-19. She said Congress has passed a law ensuring all workers get 10 sick days, even if they do not usually get them. She asked employers to cooperate, and said they should screen employees on arrival to make sure they aren’t ill.
“The last thing we need right now is people getting other people ill with anything,” Alexander-Scott said.
In addition, Raimondo reminded people that Rhode Island has vastly expanded its COVID-19 testing capacity in recent days, and urged those who feel sick to get tested. (More information about how to get tested has been posted on the Health Department website.)
About 1,800 people got tested on Monday, the first day that CVS Health operated its new rapid-testing site in the parking lot of Twin River Casino in Lincoln, according to the governor. “Everything went very well,” she said. “They’re going to build to 1,000 over the course of this week.”
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Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza on Tuesday ordered the closure of city parks and pedestrian paths, frustrating many in the city. Raimondo said she respected the decision but is not inclined to go in the same direction.
“I have not taken that approach because I think people need to be able to do something,” she said.
Raimondo had little concrete to offer response to multiple reporter questions about the state budget outlook as revenue plunges due to the economic shutdown. “We are in a whole new world right now,” she said, indicating she will confer with legislative leaders to come up with a plan.
The governor said she couldn’t rule out furloughs or layoffs of state workers, but wants to avoid it if possible. “The last thing I want to do is contribute to the state’s unemployment rate,” she said.
Despite the stress and dislocation caused by the public health emergency, Raimondo sought to end her briefing remarks on an upbeat note.
“I have been so heartened and overwhelmed and inspired by the gestures of kindness and gratitude and patience and empathy that are happening every day all over Rhode Island,” she said. “It’s really special to see. It’s amazing.”
“Please keep that up,” she added. “It’s the only thing that’s going to get us through this.”
For the second day in a row, 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 the order barring large gatherings.
Listen to the full audio of the governor’s Tuesday conference call with reporters here:
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