RI tops 100 coronavirus cases; all air travelers will have to self-quarantine

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Monday’s RI COVID-19 briefing

  • 23 new cases, bringing state’s total to 106
  • Domestic air travelers must self-quarantine
  • The Massachusetts border will stay open
  • Testing 700 to 800 people a day is the goal
  • The presidential primary will be June 2

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that Rhode Island has discovered 23 new cases of COVID-19, pushing the state’s total over 100, as she ordered new restrictions on travelers in an effort to stem the spread.

Raimondo said she will sign an executive order requiring that all air travelers who return to Rhode Island from elsewhere in the United States self-quarantine for 14 days when they get back, starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Government personnel will be at T.F. Green Airport to greet new arrivals and gather their contact information.

“Come home. We want you to come home,” Raimondo told residents who are currently out of state. “However, when you arrive back at our airport you’re being directed to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days.” (Health and public safety personnel are exempt.)

The first four flights set to land in Providence Tuesday morning were all canceled by the airlines. The first flight will arrive at 10 a.m.

CW2 Jordan St. Onge of the National Guard told Eyewitness News what they plan on telling travelers who arrive at T.F. Green Airport before they head home.

“Just the basic stuff like washing your hands, staying safe, staying away from big groups as much as possible,” he said. “The planes seem pretty empty so it should be easy to spread out and other than that hopefully everyone is careful and we can get this over with.”

Earlier Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced all “non-essential” businesses in Massachusetts must close for two weeks starting Tuesday at noon. He also issued a “stay-at-home” advisory, though stopped short of making it an order.

Raimondo said Baker’s order led her to decide she does not need to close Rhode Island’s border to interstate travelers, since far fewer people should now be commuting between the two states for work. She continues to urge as many people as possible to work from home.

Dine-in services at restaurants and bars were banned last week, and at 5 p.m. Monday all recreation and entertainment facilities, such as theaters and cinemas, or close-contact businesses, such as gyms and salons, must be closed. Residents are also being asked to avoid congregating outside restaurants when they order takeout and arrive to pick it up.

No other businesses are being closed yet. “Our ability to avoid closure depends on everyone following the rules relating to social distancing and remote learning,” Raimondo said.

The governor acknowledged the situation has been “devastating” to the economy and many businesses. It is “a temporary pause to enable us to strengthen our system,” she said, adding, “The goal of everything we’re doing right now is to reopen the economy as fast as possible.”

The governor also urged residents making purchases online, “before you go ahead and immediately click on Amazon, just take a second to see, is there a local retailer that is selling online? Please patronize local businesses to the largest extent possible.”

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The newly confirmed Rhode Island cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, brings the state’s total to 106. Four people are currently hospitalized due to the illness, according to the R.I. Health Department.

Of the 23 new cases, Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the patients range in age from their 20s to their 90s, although none are nursing home residents. Some reported recent domestic travel to places including New Jersey, New York and Utah, though none had been abroad.

All told, 33 of Rhode Island’s 106 cases had recent domestic travel, and 14 had recent international travel, she said.

Rhode Island officials’ new goal is to get to the point where 700 to 800 people are being tested for COVID-19 each day, so everyone with symptoms is tested. Raimondo described that as an “aggressive” goal which would yield a better understanding of how widespread the outbreak is.

“I need just a bit more time to get our system to handle what’s going to come in the way of increased cases once we reopen the economy,” Raimondo said. “I don’t want to be Seattle or New Orleans or Italy.”

Despite widespread concerns across the country about a shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment for front-line health care workers, Raimondo expressed guarded optimism about that locally. “I want to reassure the people of Rhode Island that we are literally scouring the world for medical supplies,” she said. “Take it off your list of things to worry about.”

Alexander-Scott added that 210 companies, organizations and individuals have offered donations of equipment using the Health Department’s new online form. “We are incredibly grateful for your generosity,” she said.

Officials continue to stress the importance of staying home when you’re sick, regardless of whether you think you have COVID-19, flu or another illness.

“It’s in everybody’s interest that we tamp down the virus so that we can reopen this economy,” Raimondo said.

On elections, Raimondo said she will sign an executive order later Monday moving Rhode Island’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2, as requested by the R.I. Board of Elections. She said it will “take place primarily by mail ballot.” A number of other states have done the same.

Asked about Rhode Island state government’s finances, Raimondo said, “The state’s not going to run out of money.” But she echoed General Treasurer Seth Magaziner in saying they will need to seek an emergency line of credit to meet the state’s cash flow needs, because “our revenues have fallen off a cliff.”

Looking ahead, a “detailed announcement” about child care for essential workers such as medical personnel is being planned for Tuesday’s 1 p.m. briefing.

According to Raimondo, more assistance to help hard-hit small businesses could be announced later this week. In the meantime, the R.I. Commerce Corp. released an FAQ on applying for the recently authorized federal disaster loans.

Raimondo had a slight cough at times during Monday’s briefing. An aide attributed it to the governor “losing her voice a bit,” not any type of illness.

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