Key takeaways from today’s Rhode Island coronavirus briefing:
- 11 new COVID-19 cases overnight; total is now 44
- No “shelter in place” order planned at this time
- COVID-19 testing is still limited but slowly ramping up
- Health Department is asking the public for supplies
- Price gouging should be reported to the AG’s office
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The total number of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island has risen to 44, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday, as the state continues to try and ramp up testing to determine how widely the virus has spread.
“Time is not our friend — information is,” Raimondo said during her daily news briefing on the coronavirus outbreak. “Fear is not our friend — facts are.”
Raimondo said the steps she is currently taking such as closing schools and bars are aimed at avoiding a “shelter in place” order — effectively, a full lockdown of the state. “No plans to do it at this time,” she said.
“That would be truly crushing to our economy,” she said.
The overarching message to most Rhode Islanders remained the same: stay home if you’re sick, avoid crowds as much as possible, wash your hands frequently, and practice social distancing.
“The virus spreads through illness and through symptoms passed on from one person to another,” said R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.
Testing was a major topic at the briefing, as Raimondo and Alexander-Scott acknowledged they are not doing as many tests as they’d like currently. “We are not where we need to be,” Raimondo said. “We’re literally getting better every day.”
The governor made an urgent plea to anyone who might have supplies such as masks and swabs — whether dentists and research labs or manufacturing companies — to reach out and share them to help expand testing and protect medical personnel. The Health Department has created a page detailing exactly what supplies are needed and providing a form to fill out for donations.
“Please help if you can!” Dr. Liz Goldberg, an emergency doctor at Rhode Island and Miriam hospitals, wrote on Twitter. Personal protective equipment “is important to keep health workers safe and hospitals staffed,” she said.
Rhode Island has roughly 200 ventilators in its stockpile, according to officials.
State officials toured the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Dunkin Donuts Center on Thursday as they scouted for possible COVID-19 emergency triage centers.
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Of the 11 new cases announced Thursday, Alexander-Scott said the patients range in age from their 20s to their 60s, with recent trips to New York and Utah among them. One is hospitalized. Contact tracing is now going on.
The Department of Health released geographic information about where the COVID-19 cases are starting with their counties. Of the 44 cases here is the breakdown by county:
- Bristol County: Fewer than 5
- Kent County: Fewer than 5
- Newport County: 6
- Providence County: 23
- Washington County: 7
The department had previously declined to do so because of fears it would compromise the patients’ privacy.
The department added that in the state there have been 654 negative results, 140 people are still awaiting their results and there are approximately 2,500 people who have been instructed to self-quarantine.
On evictions, the governor said because the courts are closed for most matters through April 17, the process to evict someone cannot take place. “Even if you’ve received an eviction notice, don’t worry about it,” she said, addressing newly unemployed Rhode Islanders. She said officials are trying to come up with longer-term solutions to help with mortgage and rent payments.
The governor said too many Rhode Islanders are not taking seriously the warning to stay away from nursing homes, where residents are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19 and a major outbreak happened in Seattle.
“I don’t know how else to say it,” she said. “You’re endangering the life of your loved one and everyone else in Rhode Island.”
Raimondo cited a rising number of reports about alleged illegal price gouging for scarce products like hand sanitizers and wipes. Residents who think they have experienced price gouging are urged to contact the attorney general’s office.
The governor offered assurances that banks and credit unions have enough cash and are well capitalized. “Set your fears aside,” she said. She asked residents who need to withdraw money to use an ATM or make an appointment rather than go into the lobby without notice.
It was already announced Wednesday that Rhode Island public schools will remain closed for another two weeks, with teachers and students switching to a sudden experiment in remote learning. “I don’t want to throw in the towel,” Raimondo said. “We want our kids to learn.”
For doctors and hospitals deciding whether to do elective procedures, Alexander-Scott said the Health Department is examining that on a daily basis, but offered no broad directive.
Outside the governor’s news conference, major closure announcements continued to pour in. The state announced the two Twin River casinos will remain closed for a second week, and the Omni Providence Hotel revealed it will not reopen until June.
Meanwhile, the pandemic is quickly creating a state budget crisis for Rhode Island, too, in part because of the ongoing closure of the state-owned casinos.