Key takeaways from Wednesday’s briefing:

  • 11 deaths, 876 total
  • 49 new cases
  • Daily positivity rate of 1.7%
  • 4 new testing sites for asymptomatic people
  • More information on Phase 3 during Friday briefing

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo says she’s been receiving numerous questions from people concerned about the future as the COVID-19 crisis drags on: Is this the way it’s always going to be? Is this the new normal? Will we be wearing masks forever?

During her latest briefing on Wednesday, Raimondo expressed hope and optimism that while things will never quite be the same, Rhode Islanders have an opportunity to take everything they’ve learned during the pandemic and improve their way of life in the long run, especially once a COVID-19 vaccine and therapy become available.

“We’re going to rebuild a better, stronger, healthier, more equitable, more resilient Rhode Island,” she said. “There’s never going to be ‘normal’ the way it used to be, and it’s on us to make sure the way it is in a year is better than it was a year ago.”

“I know there’s a lot of people out there struggling and suffering,” she added. “If you’re unemployed, I promise you we’re going to get you back to work. And if you’re housing insecure and you’re struggling, we’re going to do everything we can to make your lives better, compared to where they are now.”

Raimondo said a lot of the changes we’ve been forced to make will help us in the future. By implementing widespread distance learning, schools will be able to use that as needed, like on snow days.

In a survey of businesses, 90% of respondents said their employees are just as productive while working from home as they are at the office, according to Raimondo.

(Story continues below.)

The governor expanded access to telehealth so people could receive care over phone or teleconference to reduce visits to medical facilities. She said she plans to work with the legislature to ensure those services are covered by health insurance on a permanent basis.

Telehealth is no substitute for an in-person doctor’s appointment, Raimondo admitted, but it’s much better than missing the appointment altogether.

As for life in the short-term, Raimondo said she hopes Rhode Island’s highest-in-the-country testing per capita combined with a low rate of positive results is giving people more confidence.

“Confident to go out for dinner, confident to send your kids to camp, confident to go back to churches, synagogue, or mosque, confident to resume your daily living routine, which is so important,” she said.

The R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH) reported another 49 people tested positive for the virus out of 2,852 tests conducted Tuesday for a daily positivity rate of 1.7%. This is only the second time the positivity rate has come in below 2%, the first being this past Monday. On Tuesday, it was 2.4%.

(Story continues below.)

“We’re doing very well, and I’m very proud of you,” Raimondo said. “It’s because of your actions and the way we’ve come together as a community that Rhode Island is faring much, much better than other states around the country who are starting to see surges, hospitalizations going up.”

Another 11 Rhode Islanders died after contracting COVID-19, according to Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, which included six people in their 70s, two in their 80s, and three in their 90s.

(Story continues below.)

The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital dropped to 126 (from 129) while the number of patients in the ICU climbed to 17 (from 16) and the number of patients on ventilators remained at 13.

To date, 1,489 patients have been discharged from the hospital.

(Story continues below.)

Raimondo said her administration is putting a lot of focus on densely populated communities which are being hit harder by the virus.

“You could have a 2% test-positive rate in the state, but an outbreak happening under your nose in a particular community,” she said.

While some have shown improvement – the positivity rate in Central Falls was 13% on Tuesday, compared to 22% two weeks ago, Raimondo said – she’s looking to further improve those numbers by increasing awareness and testing, making sure contact-tracing is multilingual, and taking an individualized approach for each of those communities.

(Story continues below.)

Raimondo said they’ve installed a number of walk- and drive-thru sites in an effort to make testing more accessible, stressing that the tests are free and very little information is needed.

“Please consider getting tested. Definitely get tested if you’re sick,” she said. “If you don’t have a car, I promise you, if you live in one of those communities, there is a testing site close enough for you to walk to, or call or go to the community health center and we’ll figure out a way to get you tested.”

Raimondo continued to push the expanded testing of people not showing symptoms, saying new sites are coming to four Stop and Shop locations in the state: Cranston, Pawtucket, and two in Providence (Branch and Manton avenues). She said the testing will take place on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and each of those sites has the capacity to test 30 patients per day.

Asymptomatic people who work in the restaurant business, child care, public transit, or close-contact services are urged to get tested, along with people who’ve recently attended a large protest. Visit or call RIDOH at (401) 222-8022 to schedule an appointment.

Raimondo said she plans to release more information about Phase 3 in her next briefing scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday. While we’re still at least a couple weeks away from moving to the next phase, she said she wants to give businesses and services time to prepare.