16 new deaths, 113 more cases in RI; state of emergency extended to July

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Key takeaways from Friday’s briefing:

  • 16 new deaths, 772 total
  • State of emergency order extended to July 5
  • Governor discusses race, law enforcement, protests
  • Protesters urged to stay home if sick
  • Telehealth medicine, face-covering orders extended

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 16 people have died with COVID-19 in Rhode Island, officials reported Friday, as Gov. Gina Raimondo announced she is extending her state of emergency order until July 5.

The emergency order has been in place since the disease first emerged locally in March and was set to expire this week, but Raimondo said she needed to extend it for at least another month to access federal resources and maintain her ability to make flexible decisions related to the public health response.

The extended order is now slated to expire the day after the 4th of July, although Raimondo said she isn’t sure whether it will need go on longer.

“‘I don’t know’ is the honest answer,” Raimondo said when asked about how long Rhode Island will be in a state of emergency, noting that the federal government has authorized funding to support the National Guard in all states through August.

The state’s militia has been a linchpin of Raimondo’s COVID-19 approach so far. When pressed on the topic, Raimondo insisted she wouldn’t keep the emergency order in place for “a minute more than necessary.”

The R.I. National Guard is also now part of Raimondo’s law enforcement strategy surrounding ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of a white Minnesota police officer.

A peaceful protest was held in Providence last weekend, followed by violent unrest beginning Monday night and continuing into the Tuesday morning.

Another peaceful protest is scheduled for Friday evening, although it’s clear city and state law enforcement, along with the National Guard, are preparing for the possibility of violence.

Barricades had been set up in different parts of the city, including in front of the State House, although Raimondo said those would be opened up before the protests started.

Thousands of people in the Providence area received Amber Alert-like notifications on their smartphones, warning users that a 9 p.m. curfew is in effect tonight.

While Friday’s briefing was meant to address issues related to the ongoing public health crisis, the discussion was again dominated by questions about protests, racial inequalities and law enforcement.

Raimondo, who said she will not be attending the Friday protest but is participating in other events regarding race relations, said she thinks the activism seen across the country in recent weeks reflects how badly people of color have been treated, and that they are not being heard.

“We’re not hearing them,” Raimondo said. “We are not hearing their anxiety, frustration, fear, and daily encounters with racism.”

On the topic of law enforcement, Raimondo said there are clearly institutional problems related to race that need to be addressed, although she didn’t provide specifics. The governor also said that it’s not as bad in Rhode Island compared to other parts of the country.

“There are other places around the country where there are bigger problems,” Raimondo said. “In Providence, and I can speak for the Rhode Island State Police, they have worked very hard to have good community relationships.”

The outcry over racial inequalities in America has forced Raimondo and other state leaders to address a societal crisis at the same time as a public health crisis, spurring the governor to remind protesters to keep in mind the dangers of COVID-19.

“If you plan to engage in one of these peaceful protests, I think that is your right and I think that this is a moment in time that’s vital to make your voices heard, and to stand up against injustices,” Raimondo said. “It is also vital that you be aware that we are still fighting a deadly virus.”

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who plans to attend the Providence protest Friday, likewise urged caution, saying health officials would be there to hand out masks and provide other health-related information.

Alexander-Scott also offered her support to those speaking out against institutional racism, as it relates to public health or otherwise, but said people should stay home if they’re sick, and must take into account those who live with them before going to a protest.

“Think about those who live in your home,” she said, saying people should think twice about attending if there is anyone is older or has underlying health conditions. “It may not be the best idea for you to be at a rally.”

Whether the large gatherings will translate into a renewed surge of cases could become evident two weeks after they take place, she added.

The newly reported deaths bring the total to 772 in Rhode Island, as the Health Department also reported 182 people currently in the hospital.

The hospitalizations include 37 people in intensive care, with 23 people on ventilators. Eight more people were admitted to the hospital, while nine people were discharged, according the state.

Another 113 people tested positive for the disease, bringing the total to 15,441 since March 1. More than 4,000 people also tested negative for COVID-19, resulting in a daily positivity rate of 2.6%.

The state has reported about 100 new positive tests per day for most of the last week, according to state data records.

In addition to extending the state of emergency order, Raimondo reiterated that she has extended the order requiring people to wear face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible. She also extended an order requiring the availability of telehealth medicine until July 5. People are still expected to quarantine for two weeks if they come into contact with other infected people, she added.

Next week, Raimondo will go from daily briefings to three per week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m.

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