RI schools will reopen Aug. 31, Viola Davis to address grads; 66 cases, 4 deaths

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Wednesday’s briefing:

  • 4 new deaths, 812 total
  • Public schools to reopen Aug. 31
  • Viola Davis to address class of 2020 on TV
  • Mattiello criticizes pace of reopening
  • SNAP beneficiaries can buy food online
  • Raimondo tests negative for COVID-19

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another four people have died with COVID-19 in Rhode Island, officials said Wednesday, as Gov. Gina Raimondo announced a goal to have in-person public school resume on Aug. 31 in the state.

The governor said she has tasked the R.I. Department of Education to come up with guidance and safety standards necessary to make it possible for all students to return to classrooms beginning in the fall, which she feels confident is possible based on the state’s success so far responding to the public health crisis.

Raimondo said she’s allocating $42 million from the CARES Act to help districts make the adjustments necessary. “Safety is paramount,” she said.

Legislative task force reviews RI’s emergency spending »

The Education Department will issue minimum health and safety standards next Friday, and each school district is expected to submit a plan to the state by July 17.

Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said district plans will need to include contingency plans in the event problems arise, especially as the public health crisis continues to linger. But she stressed that the state would provide the support necessary to make it work.

“Flexibility is the name of the game,” Infante-Green said, adding that it’s important for students to get back to in-person learning with their peers.

“They need their friends,” Infante-Green said. “We all know that schools aren’t just about academics.”

It’s unclear what a regular day of school will look like, but Raimondo underscored that it will be different. The governor suggested desks might be placed farther apart, fewer students will ride on more buses and some amount of mask-wearing will be required.

If a student or school employee tests positive for COVID-19, Raimondo said she’s hopeful there will be a system in place that will allow for pinpointed quarantining and isolation, making it possible to avoid shutting down the entire school.

All public school districts will also move to a new statewide school calendar.

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“There’s a lot to be figured out,” Raimondo added.

It’s unclear how the $42 million will be divided across districts, but Infante-Greene said more details will be released next week, and it will be allocated separately from the state’s current funding formula for education.

For this year’s high school graduates in the class of 2020, Raimondo said there is a special program scheduled to air on Rhode Island PBS at 7 p.m. on June 15 that will feature an address from Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis plus some New England Patriots players.

On the latest COVID-19 data, the newly reported deaths bring the total to 812 in Rhode Island. Another 66 people tested positive for the disease on Tuesday, while roughly 2,473 people received a negative result, resulting in a daily positivity rate of 2.6%.

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The Health Department also announced 148 people are currently in the hospital with COVID-19, including 27 people in the intensive care unit and 16 on ventilators. Hospitalizations increased slightly from the day before, as 10 new people were admitted to the hospital and six were discharged, according to state data.

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the four people who died were in their 80s and 90s.

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Earlier in the day, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he would like to see the state move more quickly to reopen the economy, citing the relatively low infection rate. The comments drew attention because Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have generally backed Raimondo’s strategy up to now.

“We have to move a little quicker,” Mattiello said during a WPRO radio interview, adding that restaurants should be allowed to reopen fully instead of at the current 50% capacity limit.

“The governor has led us well through this, but at this point we need to pick it up a bit,” Mattiello said.

When asked about the speaker’s comments, Raimondo shot right back. “I don’t support that,” she said, adding, “I’m surprised that he said it because we talk constantly.”

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In addition to the news around schools, Raimondo announced that people receiving food benefits through the federal SNAP program will now have the option to start purchasing food online through Amazon and participating Walmarts using EBT cards in Rhode Island.

On Monday, Raimondo announced plans to expand testing to some people who are not showing symptoms, starting with workers at child care centers and close-contact businesses like salons, barbershops and gyms.

The governor on Wednesday reiterated that those workers should take advantage of the free tests, and she encouraged anyone who attended any of the protests in recent weeks to also schedule a test — regardless of whether they’re showing symptoms.

The goal is to test 900 asymptomatic people per day.

Raimondo, who was forced to apologize after appearing at a protest in Providence without a mask on Friday night at the State House, said she herself tested negative for the disease Wednesday.

Raimondo apologizes for not wearing a face mask at Providence rally »

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