PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two more people in Rhode Island have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the R.I. Department of Health, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,014.
Health officials also reported 110 new positive cases on Thursday along with a daily positivity rate of 2.2%.
As of mid-day Thursday, 83 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital, of which 11 are in intensive care and four are on ventilators.
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On Wednesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the R.I. State Police have created a new Crush COVID Unit to enforce her ban on large social gatherings.
The state also set up a new hotline so Rhode Islanders can report violations.
The unit received 57 calls in the first day, R.I. State Police Major Christopher Dicomitis said Thursday, but none of the reports were actionable since they did not involve large gatherings.
“There were individuals asking about COVID-19-related concerns, addressing prior issues,” he said. “We had one caller complaining of a bathroom not being cleaned at a restaurant.”
“That’s not what this line is for,” Dicomitis added. “This line is for large gatherings, which we will respond to with our troops as well as our local counterparts.”
Last week, Raimondo reduced the limit on social gatherings from 25 people to 15, saying contact-tracing efforts for recent COVID-19 cases have connected them back to house parties, baby showers and backyard barbecues.
She also urged people to limit their social circles to the same 15 people.
Dicomitis said they’ve received emails from residents who are frustrated that those types of events can’t have more than 15 attendees but public protests seemingly can.
He said it comes down to deescalation and public safety.
“We don’t want troopers going out into the crowd,” he explained. “That would only facilitate a probably negative response, which we don’t want.”
Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told Eyewitness News that few cases have been traced back to protests.
“From a public health perspective, there is a significant difference between a protest – which is constitutionally protected – and a social gathering,” he wrote in an email. “Whereas a significant number of cases have been traced back to social gatherings at which large groups of people are mingling, sharing food and drinks, getting within six feet of one another, and not wearing masks, we have seen almost no spread resulting from protests.”
“The Rhode Island Department of Health has worked with the organizers of many protests over the last several months to distribute masks and encourage compliance with physical distancing,” Wendelken continued.
Violations of the ban may result in a fine of $500. State police said they will impose that on a case-by-case basis when they respond to reports of violations.
To report a large gathering, call (401) 764-5554.
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