RI tops 800 COVID-19 deaths; legislative task force reviews state’s emergency spending

Coronavirus

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More than 800 Rhode Islanders have now died after contracting COVID-19, the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH) reported Tuesday.

Nine new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 808, along with 55 new positive cases since Monday.

The number of people in the hospital fell slightly to 144 and while the number of patients on ventilators declined to 19, the number of patients in the ICU climbed to 31 from 28, according to RIDOH.

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Gov. Gina Raimondo does not have a briefing scheduled for Tuesday, since starting this week she went from holding them daily to three per week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

On Monday, Raimondo announced plans to expand testing to include people not showing symptoms, starting with workers at child care centers and close-contact businesses like salons, barbershops and gyms, as well as those who’ve recently attended a large protest.

The goal is to test 900 asymptomatic people per day.

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The Joint Legislative COVID-19 Emergency Spending Task Force met for the second time on Tuesday to review the state’s virus spending.

Members of the Raimondo administration said the state has about $1.45 billion to spend when you take into account $1.25 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund and additional federal stimulus money. They also said FEMA reimbursement is an option. 

At this point, Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley said the state has only spent $43.7 million and committed to spending another $142.7 million. But the state projects it could need between $662 – $900 million dollars to continue addressing the virus.

“A lot of that is going to depend on circumstances in our environment and how infection rates move,” Jonathan Womer, executive director of the Office of Management and Budget, said. 

How the money is spent was of concern to lawmakers during Tuesday’s meeting.

Rep. Anastasia Williams said there needs to be more funding set aside and more of a focus on communities of color, who have been greatly impacted by the virus.

“Their our peers. They pay their taxes, and they need to be taken care of. Make sure, please, that you will address that population, and address them properly,” Williams said.

Sen. Joshua Miller said more needs to be done to help small businesses statewide. He said business structures have evaporated because there is no longer any tourism or higher education supporting them.

“There is a need for more small business support beyond what the fed and the state has provided,” Miller said. “I hope with the additional initiatives, we look at some of those communities that are specifically impacted.”

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