COVID-19 death toll passes 900 in RI, but cases stay low; crowded beaches will get new rules


Key takeaways from today’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • Death toll rises to 903
  • Positive trends on cases, hospitalizations
  • New rules coming for crowded beaches
  • Simple nasal swab test will be used more
  • Businesses urged to complete control plans

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health announced Monday more than 900 Rhode Islanders have now died after contracting COVID-19, but said the number of new cases remained well below 100 a day over the weekend.

The Health Department confirmed the deaths of nine more COVID-19 patients, with five of the nine dying over the weekend. More than half the Rhode Islanders who’ve died with the virus have been at least 80 years old, with the bulk of fatalities tied to nursing homes.

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The department also reported 121 new coronavirus cases on Friday, Saturday and Sunday combined, with a test positivity rate of about 2% for the three days. Officials said the positivity rate in Providence and Central Falls, where it had remained high, fell to about 8% in recent days.

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Hospitalizations continue to trend in a positive direction, as well. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Rhode Island fell to 106, down by 20 from just five days before, with 18 of those patients in the ICU.

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Interactive: See all the latest COVID-19 data on’s tracking page »

Overall, the data is “a good news story” that suggests “a nice downward trend,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said at her regularly scheduled coronavirus briefing on Monday. She and Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott emphasized that keeping the numbers low depends on Rhode Islanders continuing to adhere to health directives such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

“Let’s today recommit ourselves — more mask-wearing, use of the Crush COVID RI app, and use your contact tracing notebook — because it’s what’s going to keep us all safe and allows us to move to Phase 3 on time, and then to Phase 4,” Raimondo said.

Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan is slated to begin as soon as June 30, with more information about that slated to be released later in the week.

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“If we all start going back to living the way we used to — big parties, lots of gatherings, lots of indoor gatherings — a lot of people are going to get sick again,” Raimondo said. “That’s a hard thing to convey because you look around and the numbers are fantastic.”

Alexander-Scott acknowledged that “virus fatigue” is a real phenomenon, but warned that a decline in compliance with health directives could lead to a rise in cases similar to what is now happening in states such as Arizona, Texas and Florida.

In talking to other health officials around the country, Alexander-Scott said, “everyone understands that the key to stopping what you’re seeing in other states with those increases is exactly what we’re talking about every day — wearing the mask, keeping the distance, keeping your groups small.”

“The numbers we have as a state should not be taken for granted,” she added.

Raimondo dismissed President Trump’s comments at a campaign rally over the weekend that he had asked federal officials to slow down COVID-19 testing to improve the numbers, and said she has seen no evidence that such an edict has been affecting states’ supplies.

“Here in Rhode Island the approach is full speed ahead on testing,” she said.

Acknowledging complaints about the discomfort of tests which use a nasopharyngeal swab — which enters the nostril to collect a sample from the back of the throat — Raimondo said the state’s testing task force has authorized a shift toward more use of a test involving a simple nasal swab at the front of the nose. She said she hopes it will lead more asymptomatic people to get tested.

The nasopharyngeal swab is “not pleasant,” according to Raimondo, who got tested after addressing the Black Lives Matter protest earlier this month. However, she said it was not painful.

Reviewing the past weekend, the governor said an estimated 25,000 people visited the state’s beaches on Saturday, followed by roughly 15,000 going on Sunday. Unlike at the state’s parks — where she said visitors were understanding about capacity restrictions — some beachgoers reacted badly to being told they had to stop congregating in large groups.

Raimondo said she will announce new rules for beaches on Wednesday ahead of next weekend to try and address the problem. “I know it’s inconvenient that you can’t gather in big groups on the beach,” she said. “We’re asking you to be patient and understanding.”

State inspectors focused on gyms and restaurants over the weekend, finding high compliance with the requirements for both employees and customers to wear masks.

However, Raimondo said only about 80% of businesses that were visited had filled out a COVID-19 control plan, which she said is too low and needs to improve.

With courts set to begin processing evictions tied to the pandemic, Raimondo said she is continuing to work on creating a mediation program to avoid people getting thrown out of their homes. She also said landlords have so far pledged 40 rental units for individuals with Section 8 vouchers toward her recently announced goal of securing 100 by July 1. Landlords who agree are eligible for bonuses.

The “weR1” campaign to raise $3 million to provide financial support to undocumented immigrants, which Raimondo announced Friday, took in about $41,000 from Rhode Islanders in the last few days apart from larger donations that the governor is seeking in conjunction with the Rhode Island Foundation. She reiterated that those individuals cannot receive federal COVID relief benefits.

LIST: What’s open right now in Rhode Island »

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