Raimondo extends mask-wearing order, announces $150M for hospitals; 14 more COVID-19 deaths

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Thursday’s briefing:

  • 14 more deaths for a total of 756
  • Mask-wearing order extended for a month
  • Telehealth coverage extended for a month
  • $150 million in federal aid going to hospitals
  • Sharp decline in immunizations among kids

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island has a long road ahead when it comes to rebuilding the state’s economy, communities, and health care system, Gov. Gina Raimondo said during her daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, emphasizing that it also presents an opportunity to make positive changes and emerge even stronger than before.

Raimondo said she plans to sign an executive order Thursday afternoon reaffirming her administration’s commitment to transforming the state’s health care system in the long run and ensuring all Rhode Islanders have access to quality care.

“The health care system is not going to look the same a year from now as it did when we started this,” she said.

Raimondo also announced that up to $150 million in federal CARES Act aid will be made available to hospitals to offset immediate costs and make sure they stay open and financially secure. The state’s two largest hospital groups have suffered major financial blows during the crisis.

“We need to be there for them, and they need to be there for their front-line workers,” Raimondo said.

“The reality is our health care system is fragile and stretched in ways that I don’t know if it’s ever been before,” she added. “The reality of this crisis, the COVID crisis, has taken an unbelievable toll on our health care system at a time when people need health care more than ever.”

Low-wage workers in nursing homes and other facilities will receive increased pay for another two weeks as Raimondo said she would be extending that initiative, which she launched earlier in the crisis in an effort to mitigate staffing shortages.

While the state lost another 14 Rhode Islanders who contracted COVID-19, Raimondo said the downward trend in the overall public health data is good news as the state continues to reopen.

“Every one of those deaths is a loved one,” she said. “Let’s just remember that, and remember that this suffering is real, it’s in our community, and just take a moment to recognize that.”

The newly reported deaths brought the state’s total to 756, according to the R.I. Department of Health.

RIDOH reported 100 new positive cases out of 3,226 tests conducted, for a positivity rate of roughly 3%.

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COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped slightly to 185, as did the number of patients in intensive care (42) and on ventilators (29).

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The governor also said she renewed her face covering order for another month, as it was set to expire on Thursday. She urged people to continue to wear them and follow the other rules such as limiting social gatherings to 15 people, maintaining social distancing, and staying home when sick.

“The virus isn’t gone. It isn’t going to be gone. It’s still here, it’s still dangerous,” she said. “We’ve just learned how to deal with it.”

The health department’s Dr. James McDonald stressed the importance of keeping a distance of at least six feet from others at all times, even if you’re outside and wearing a mask.

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Reopening RI: What’s new for Phase 2?

Raimondo said the pandemic has not only highlighted but worsened disparities that have long existed within the health care system, and she’s making it her goal to root them out and address them.

“The inequity that we’ve seen revealed or spotlighted through the crisis is real, and something that we can’t accept,” she said.

In addition, there’s been a substantial drop in primary care visits, treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses, and immunizations among children, according to Raimondo. She said immunizations have dropped by 35% during the pandemic, with some facilities reporting up to a 50% decline.

Raimondo urged parents to call their children’s doctors and schedule an appointment so their kids can get the shots they need.

“That’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she added. “If we don’t fix that now, next winter, that’s going to result in potentially devastating health care issues.”

The governor also announced the formation of a new pediatric advisory council led by RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott that will also receive CARES Act funding. The panel will look for ways to support pediatric services and address the decline in immunizations.

A big part of reducing the inequities in health care as well as helping individuals stay healthy is expanded access to telehealth, Raimondo noted. She said she extended her executive order directing insurers to cover those services for another 30 days.

When asked about nursing homes visits, which are still not permitted in Phase 2, Dr. McDonald said RIDOH will be asking these facilities to develop plans for how they would handle visitation once it’s allowed again, which could come in Phase 3.

Following the briefing, Raimondo said the reopening guidelines for nursing homes will be posted on ReopeningRI.com later on Tuesday.

Starting next week, Raimondo will no longer hold briefings daily and will instead address the public about the local coronavirus situation on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

She also said she intends to start laying out plans for schools next week, with the hope that buildings will be able to reopen in the fall.

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