Raimondo urges Rhode Islanders to follow rules 4th of July weekend; seeks to improve long-term care

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Wednesday’s briefing:

  • 6 more deaths, 956 total
  • Additional funding for nursing homes, child care providers
  • Announcement on visitation next week
  • Social distancing not happening at some bars

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s economy has been gradually reopening over the last several weeks, and so far there hasn’t been a spike in new COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations like many other states are seeing right now.

To that end, Gov. Gina Raimondo urged Rhode Islanders to continue following the rules she and the R.I. Department of Health have set forth as the state heads into the Fourth of July weekend.

During her latest COVID-19 briefing Wednesday afternoon, Raimondo admitted she’s concerned, given that states like Texas and Arizona are attributing their recent surges to large gatherings.

“Let’s not make that our story,” she said, encouraging people to enjoy the weekend while also wearing a mask when close to other people, avoiding crowds, and staying home when sick.

“I know we can have a great Fourth of July holiday, we can have a lot of fun, and we can do it safely,” Raimondo added.

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While the permitted size of social gatherings increased when Rhode Island moved to Phase 3 earlier this week, Raimondo said there were still issues with people congregating at beaches and parks this past weekend.

She also said 18% of bars visited by state inspectors last weekend did not have adequate social distancing and threatened to shut them all down again if that continues to be a problem.

“We want you to be making money, but I can’t have nearly 20% of the bars in the state allowing people bunching up and congregating,” she said, addressing bar owners and managers. “We know from the experience of other places this will get us into trouble, so I’m asking you to try harder and we’re going to start cranking up our enforcement.”

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To help make sure face coverings are worn this weekend, Raimondo said the state will provide up to 1,000 masks to any city or town that wants to hand them out at Fourth of July events, and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will also be distributing them at parks and beaches.

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott announced six more Rhode Islanders have died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 956.

One person was in their 40s and had significant underlying health conditions, according to Alexander-Scott, while two were in their 60s and there was one each in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

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“Every day, we continue to lose people to this virus,” Raimondo said. “This is why we need to follow the rules, because you following the rules will save someone’s life.”

RIDOH also reported 27 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 1,829 tests conducted, for a daily positivity rate of 1.5%.

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The number of patients in the hospital fell to 69 from 74, according to RIDOH, and there are currently 11 patients in the ICU and on ventilators.

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The governor on Wednesday announced $25 million in COVID-19 relief funds will be used to invest in the state’s long-term health care system, not only to help facilities with immediate needs, but also to revamp and strengthen the system as a whole.

Raimondo said in the short term she hopes to improve care at nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities by increasing inspections and continuing to provide funding for PPE and cleaning products as well as wage support for the lowest-paid workers.

“I hear from Rhode Islanders every day that they’re afraid, afraid to send mom into a nursing home,” Raimondo said. “So I want to assure you that we’re going to provide support, but we’re also going to be taking an even closer eye to make sure that our nursing homes are top-notch in terms of quality, cleanliness and infection control.”

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But she also wants to reduce the state’s reliance on nursing homes by investing in home-based care and bolstering that workforce through increased training and better wages, ultimately giving Rhode Islanders more options when it comes to finding care for a loved one.

“The right thing to do is to help our nursing homes be better and safer, and also invest in the community and invest in the workforce so that over time, our moms and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas can age with dignity in their home and have high-quality, affordable care brought to them so they’re safe and heathy,” Raimondo said.

“That’s not a ‘new normal,'” she added. “That’s a better, stronger, more innovative Rhode Island.”

Visitors have been kept out of nursing homes and hospitals since March, but that could soon change. Alexander-Scott said she expects to make an announcement next week that visitation will once again be allowed in some form.

“It’s definitely my intention to be able do that this time next week with nursing homes and assisted-living facilities,” she said. “We’re also moving forward with an even further accelerated path with hospitals.”

In addition, Raimondo announced the state will allocate $5 million in relief funds to support capital improvement projects at licensed child care providers

Raimondo’s next scheduled briefing is 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 8.

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