Key takeaways from Saturday’s briefing:
- Hispanics/Latinos make up 44% of cases
- 13 new deaths, 215 total
- Fewer immunizations for other illnesses
- New image of “hope” unveiled
- Raimondo addresses “knock it off” protesters
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo is bullish that hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have plateaued in recent days, but said she’s deeply concerned about the high rate of cases found in Hispanic and Latino communities.
The governor’s remarks on Saturday came in the wake of the R.I. Health Department reporting another 13 Rhode Islanders have died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 215 in Rhode Island.
In addition to the new deaths, the state reported 430 new confirmed cases, slightly fewer than the record number reported Friday.
A total of 7,129 Rhode Islanders have tested positive for the disease since March 1, and demographic data based on a small sample of those results show Hispanic and Latino residents make up 44% of the total.
By comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that group makes up just 16% of Rhode Island’s total population.
“To say the least, it’s deeply concerning,” Raimondo said. “We’re doing a lot to reach out to the community, but clearly this is an alarming statistic and we need to do more.”
Raimondo listed various actions the state has taken to try and provide more information to the Spanish-speaking communities, including translating materials, calling into radio stations with key messages and offering the daily briefings in Spanish.
But the rate of cases has remained high since the state first started collecting demographic information, and the disease is found most often in communities with higher percentages of racial and ethnic minorities.
By example, Hispanic and Latino residents make up 66% of the total population in Central Falls, which currently has the most cases per capita.
Raimondo announced the start of a new advertising campaign on Spanish-speaking radio and social media to get public health messages out to the community, and she’s tapped Department of Human Services Director Courtney Hawkins to lead an effort toward figuring out why the Latino and Hispanic communities are being disproportionately affected.
The governor also announced she’s hosting a town hall-style meeting with Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to answer any questions at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. (The meeting will also serve as an opportunity for parents to ask education-related questions.) More details will be made available on the R.I. Department of Education Facebook page.
“We will continue to be flexible with our response,” Raimondo said.
Nursing home residents made up 10 of the 13 people reported dead Saturday, continuing a trend. The disease has killed upward of 150 nursing home residents and at least three employees, as nearly 14% of the state’s overall nursing home population has contracted COVID-19.
The 13 people who died ranged in age from a person in their 60s to someone who was over 100 years old.
On a positive note, hospitalizations fell slightly to 263, although the number of people on ventilators grew to 52. Intensive care unit patients remained steady at 77 people.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott noted that the public health crisis appears to be scaring people away from visiting their doctors and going to the emergency room.
The deterrence has resulted in a corresponding decline in immunizations compared to last year, including a 12% decline for hepatitis B, a 23% decrease for polio and a 42% decrease for HPV.
Flu immunizations have increased by 5%, she added.
“There are certain concerns for increases in cases connected to those vaccinations prevention,” Alexander-Scott said, urging people not to be afraid of receiving this type of preventative care. She called it an “essential activity.”
The director also reminded people that emergency departments remain open, and those experiencing chest pain, severe bleeding, broken or displaced bones and severe burns should still be calling 9-1-1 and seeking emergency care.
“COVID-19 is a statewide public health crisis right now, but we also still need to take the steps required to keep ourselves healthy and safe when it comes to our other health issues,” Alexander-Scott said.
Addressing the arts community, Raimondo said the Rhode Island Artists Relief Fund, created to help support out-of-work artists, continues to grow with donations. Artists can visit www.artistcommunities.org and search “Rhode Island Artists Relief Fund” to learn more. The state has also launched its own website with relevant information called RIArts.org.
The governor is encouraging a new arts-related initiative, asking Rhode Islanders to create “family-friendly art” at home and share it on social media platforms using #RIArts.
“Let’s get together with art,” Raimondo said.
Additionally, she unveiled a new image created by Shepard Fairey — a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and founder of Obey Clothing. The artist is also known for creating the widely recognized Barack Obama “Hope” poster.
The governor said she contacted Fairey recently, asking the artist to create an image of hope for Rhode Island, resulting in a poster depicting a young woman that Raimondo said reminds her of Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon of WWII when women worked in factories making munitions for the war effort abroad.
“This is for all of Rhode Island,” she said. “It’s time to be brave, it’s a time to be strong, it’s a time to dig deep and get through this as a community.”
As the governor delivered her remarks Saturday, a group of protesters gathered outside the State House, calling on her to reopen the economy, as her various shutdown orders have sent more than 180,000 people to the unemployment line. They were met by counter-protesters made up mostly of health care workers.
The protestors, formed in part by the Facebook group “Rhode Islanders Against Excessive Quarantine,” called on the governor to “knock it off,” repurposing a mantra Raimondo has used throughout the public health crisis to chastise people who aren’t following social distancing mandates.
The protesters joined in throngs at the bottom of the State House, some clearly violating the governor’s social distancing mandates, while the health care workers — mostly nurses — spread out along the stairs leading up to the State House.
When asked about the protesters, Raimondo said she supported their right to protest, but noted that if they were violating her social distancing mandates “they should knock it off.”
“At this point, to violate social distancing rules is just selfish,” she said.