Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing
- 5 more dead, 35 total; 220 new cases
- 143 hospitalized, 45 in ICU
- Courts closure extended to May 17
- Raimondo, Elorza at odds over city parks
- Shifting to more automated contact tracing
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday that five more people have died with COVID-19 in Rhode Island, while 220 more residents have tested positive, as the number of people hospitalized continues to rise.
There were 143 people in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, Raimondo said, up from 123 Tuesday and more than double the number one week ago. No specifics were offered Wednesday about when the state will need to start using the three makeshift hospitals it is setting up.
Of the 143 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, 45 were in the ICU as of midday Wednesday, and 37 of them were on ventilators to help them breathe. Another 42 people in the hospital for illnesses other than COVID-19 were also on ventilators; the state has 220 of the machines ready to be used and another 110 in reserve, officials said.
“The number of people in the hospital is what we are very focused on now, and tracking how quickly that number doubles and increases,” Raimondo said at her daily briefing, again indicating Rhode Island is experiencing “rapid spread phrase of the virus.”
“You should assume at this point there is widespread community transmission,” she said.
The latest data means 35 people have died in Rhode Island — 22 connected to nursing homes — and 1,450 people have tested positive since the state reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 1. The deaths are being described as “COVID-19-associated” by the Department of Health.
Of the five deaths announced Wednesday, three were in their 70s, one of them a resident at the Oak Hill nursing home in Pawtucket; one was in their 80s, also an Oak Hill resident; and one was in their 90s and a resident of Golden Crest Nursing Centre in Pawtucket.
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R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said anyone who feels sick should self-isolate for at least seven days. They should be free of fever without medication for 72 hours, with all symptoms resolved, before going out in public again.
The briefing sparked further confusion about Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s controversial order closing city parks and boulevards to pedestrians, as Raimondo indicated the mayor was going to allow people to use them if they avoid large crowds, but the mayor’s spokesperson quickly said he was not changing his policy.
On a follow-up conference call with reporters, Raimondo acknowledged she was taken aback by the statement from City Hall, and said she was working to get clarity. She said she has offered Elorza help from state law enforcement to police the parks.
On testing, Raimondo said some residents are mistakenly going to local CVS stores in an effort to get a COVID-19 test.
The only way to get one of the rapid tests that CVS Health launched this week is by making an appointment on CVS.com and going to the Twin River Casino parking lot in Lincoln, where CVS has set up shop. The company will be adding the ability to make appointments multiple days ahead, she said.
The state now has the capacity to do over 2,000 COVID-19 tests a day, according to Raimondo. Rapid testing by CVS is being reserved for essential workers and older residents, she said.
The courts will stay closed through May 17 for all but essential matters under an executive order issued Wednesday by R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell. Raimondo again emphasized that this means evictions cannot be adjudicated, even if someone receives an eviction notice between now and then for failing to pay rent.
Help for mortgage borrowers is still being discussed, and an announcement could come soon, the governor said.
For those who need food delivery, whether prepared meals or groceries, Raimondo again urged residents to use the recently launched RIDelivers.com. More than 40,000 people have used the website in the last week, she said.
Raimondo discussed contact tracing, the process by which the Health Department seeks out those who’ve been in contact with individuals who test positive for COVID-19. She said the state is trying to move from a “blunt” approach to a more “pinpointed,” automated one, and is partnering with the company Salesforce.com as part of that.
She again asked residents to keep a daily log of all their contacts and travels. “I cannot get you back to work unless you keep a contact notebook,” she said.
In a worrying sign about the social impact of the crisis, Raimondo said she’s been told domestic violence calls to local police departments are up about 30%. The R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence has said its 24/7 confidential hotline is still available around the clock at 1-800-494-8100, and a live chat is available at its website, ricadv.org.
With the new guidance that all Rhode Islanders should wear cloth face covering while out in public, Raimondo thanked Ocean State Job Lot for announcing it will use its stores to provide enough free fabric to make 1 million masks.
Asked about weddings, Raimondo said, “This is a tough one.” She told prospective brides and grooms they probably will not be able to hold a large gathering in the coming months. She recommended that they get married in a small ceremony and hold a large party once the health emergency has passed.
With Passover beginning tonight, Raimondo spent a portion of her daily briefing speaking directly to the Jewish community, thanking rabbis and their congregations for finding ways to hold virtual seders and take other steps to mark the holiday while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“It is a time that the Jewish people retell and celebrate the story of triumph and freedom over an enemy,” Raimondo said. “And I think that that is more appropriate than ever this Passover, as we all together maintain our sense of hope that we will triumph and have freedom against this common enemy.”
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