PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continues to trend upward, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she’s hopeful Rhode Islanders will take her upcoming two-week “pause” seriously.
Raimondo said the temporary closures and restrictions will begin Nov. 30. She said it was a difficult decision to make, but she had to do it in an effort to flatten the curve.
“The rate of hospitalizations is the fastest we’ve ever seen, faster than at any point in the spring,” Raimondo said during an interview with 12 News Now at 4 anchor Kim Kalunian.
Raimondo said the state’s two field hospitals are fully functional and could be taking in patients as early as next week.
“It’s getting real now,” she said. “We’re going to be at a point pretty soon where we’re all going to know somebody in the hospital, and then it’s going to get real for people.”
Raimondo said she wasn’t surprised to see a steady rise in cases and hospitalizations throughout the month, since the data revealed Rhode Islanders did not heed her warnings regarding social gatherings ahead of Halloween.
“We knew that would translate into what we’re living with now,” Raimondo said. “But is it still frustrating and disappointing? Yeah, absolutely.”
Raimondo said she knows the state’s businesses are struggling and her upcoming restrictions aren’t ideal, however, she said Rhode Islanders left her with no choice.
“It breaks my heart to have to do that, but if folks are not going to stay at home, wear their masks and cut down on their parties, then unfortunately, it’s where we have to go,” she said.
Rhode Island Sen. Thomas Paolino is among many to criticize Raimondo for including gyms and fitness centers on the list of businesses ordered to temporarily close.
“People are willing to take precautions to participate in activities they enjoy,” Paolino said in a statement. “Business owners and their patrons have the right to choose whether or not they go to a gym. In fact, many people consider gyms to be businesses ‘essential’ to their health.”
When it comes to her decision to close gyms, Raimondo reminded everyone that “there is no easy answer and there is no perfect answer.” She said her decision was based on data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the risk factors gyms pose.
“When you’re at the gym, you’re walking around, you know, you’re not stationary, lots of people can’t keep their masks on, people are breathing heavily, exhaling, et cetera,” Raimondo explained. “These are all things we want to avoid.”
Raimondo said she plans on rolling out a “substantial” amount of funding for impacted businesses statewide.
“We’re going to get it out the door as quickly as we can,” she said, adding that she will provide more details in her weekly coronavirus briefing Wednesday afternoon.
Raimondo said she’s aware that some lawmakers and businesses have been critical of her decision to withhold millions of dollars in CARES Act funding. She explained that the reason she chose to do so was to ensure the money was there in the event of a second wave.
With where the state is now, she said “it was a good move to hold back on it.”
“I’m happy I did, because now we are racking up the bills,” Raimondo explained. “Field hospitals are very expensive, getting ready for the vaccine is very expensive.”
“It’s there because we need it,” she continued. “Thank God we still have it. I’ve talked to some of my fellow governors and they don’t have any left, and I’m so grateful we still have some money left.”
With the news of a vaccine potentially being approved and distributed by the end of the year, Raimondo said she’s hopeful the state will have receive a limited supply by the end of the year.
“It’s still going to be very limited and focused on hospital workers, nursing home workers and healthcare workers,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo hopes that by early spring, the state’s large-scale vaccination effort will be underway.
Raimondo said that, if Rhode Islanders don’t take the two-week pause seriously, she may consider extending it, adding that the data doesn’t lie.
“It has been shown that Google mobility data is actually a pretty good predictor of future spikes,” Raimondo explained. “We’re going to be tracking that and if at the end of a couple of weeks, we see a precipitous decline in mobility, then I’ll have some confidence to turn up the dial.”
“But if at the end of the two weeks we’re not really seeing a change in mobility, then yes, we will extend it or maybe even do more,” she continued.