Key takeaways from Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing:
- 8 more deaths, for total of 43
- Person in 20s in group home has died
- Quarantine enforcement starting soon, with fines
- Testing sites closing Thursday for inclement weather
- 160 in hospital; 45 in ICU
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday there were eight more deaths related to COVID-19 in Rhode Island since Wednesday, and 277 new positive cases.
As of Thursday 160 people are in the hospital with the virus in Rhode Island, including 45 in intensive care units and 38 who are intubated.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the increase in positive cases is a result of recently expanded testing. She also said the latest eight deaths were people ranging in age from their 20s to 90s.
The person in their 20s who died had underlying conditions, Alexander-Scott said, and lived in a group home. This is the youngest person reported to have died with COVID-19 in Rhode Island since the crisis began.
Six of the new deaths on Thursday were connected to nursing homes, according to Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken. One was at Oak Hill Center, a nursing home in Pawtucket that has been one of the hotspots for the virus.
Alexander-Scott said the Health Department has been particularly concerned about those congregate living settings. There have been dozens of cases at nursing homes including Oak Hill and the Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence.
Of the total 43 deaths, 29 have been associated with congregate settings, which includes places like nursing homes and group homes, according to Wendelken.
“We want to be as aggressive as we can be in the regular communications with them to see how we can stem this,” Alexander-Scott said. “We’re doing everything we can in working with them.”
There have now been 43 deaths of people with COVID-19 in Rhode Island, and 1,727 positive cases since the first one was disclosed March 1.
Raimondo said outdoor testing sites will be closing on Thursday afternoon as a result of expected thunderstorms, and patients with appointments will be individually notified.
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The governor said she has signed a new executive order authorizing the Health Department to begin creating regulations to enforce mandated quarantines, which will include fines in the hundreds of dollars.
“We don’t want to punish anyone, we don’t want to levy a fine on anyone,” Raimondo said. “But if you are found to be deliberately, knowingly, purposely, repeatedly violating your quarantine and isolation, well then you will be punished.”
Raimondo said she expected the regulations about enforcement to be completed in the next day or two, providing more specifics.
Alexander-Scott said she has signed about 10 compliance orders so far to give law enforcement the authority to enforce quarantines. The new regulations and fines would only apply to future violators, not previous ones.
People who must quarantine include those who have traveled to Rhode Island from other states for non-work purposes, or those who have had contact with a person with COVID-19 and have been ordered by the health department to quarantine at home.
Alexander-Scott said 2,243 people are currently quarantining in Rhode Island, includes both those under a self-quarantine order and those under an isolation order.
“Isolation refers to staying at home when you have symptoms,” she said. “Quarantining is when you are staying at home and you don’t have symptoms, but you are staying at home to monitor yourself for symptoms. … With isolation, it’s important to be able to isolate yourself even within your home to the best extent possible.”
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Raimondo also sought to clarify that people who are quarantining cannot leave home for any reason — even if they are not sick.
“If you’re ordered into quarantine, you cannot leave your house,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo said people who are sick should be isolating, including trying to stay away from other people in the house. She acknowledged it will be difficult for families with small homes or one bathroom.
“I’m just asking you to do your best,” Raimondo said.
Alexander-Scott said people who are sick should stay in isolation for a minimum of 7 days. Those people need to be fever-free for three days without medication before coming out of isolation.
The health department now says children under the age of two should not wear face coverings, but everyone else is encouraged to wear cloth coverings over their nose and mouth while in public.
Asked if the health department agreed with the White House guidance released Wednesday about critical workers returning to work after being exposed to COVID-19, Alexander-Scott said the primary approach is to quarantine such people.
But she said in “rare” situations, critical infrastructure workers can return to work and wear a mask as long as they follow strict recommendations and regularly check their temperature. She gave as an example — a group home where all the staffers were exposed but cannot quarantine.
Raimondo again declined to release data on Rhode Island’s predictive modeling, saying it was not reliable enough to release. She added that the “peak” is estimated to be late April to late May.
“I have been reluctant to share any particular model,” Raimondo said. “It’s still a work in progress and I’m reluctant to put numbers out there that I don’t have a high degree of confidence in.”
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