Key takeaways from Tuesday’s RI COVID-19 briefing

  • 18 new positive cases; total stands at 124
  • “Many, many” of the 124 patients have recovered
  • New child care options are being rolled out
  • The DLT is “overrun” with jobless claims – avoid calls
  • State leaders are looking to borrow up to $300 million

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday that Rhode Island has discovered 18 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 124, as she outlined new efforts to provide child care options for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is unprecedented. Every decision I make is a tough call,” Raimondo said during her daily coronavirus briefing. “We’re doing our best to balance public health and the economy.”

“The whole thing depends on you,” she said. “Stay informed. Facts, not frenzy.”

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Discussing the new cases, R.I. Health Department Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said the patients are men and women of all ages.

“The virus does not pick and choose who to infect,” she said.

A rising share of cases are tied to domestic travel rather than international travel, Alexander-Scott said, which is why the state implemented an order Tuesday morning that all air travelers returning to T.F. Green Airport self-quarantine for 14 days on return.

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The Health Department is partnering with hospitals and private labs to expand testing capacity, she said, singling out East Side Clinical Laboratory for stepping up “in a huge way.” The state is currently able to test up to 200 people a day, though it has generally reported fewer. In the meantime, she said anyone with suspect symptoms should consider their illness COVID-19.

Due to a limited supply of tests, Alexander-Scott said the Health Department is not retesting people who previously tested positive for COVID-19 to determine if they’re now negative, but said “many, many” of the state’s 124 cases have recovered. She said doctors have been advised to monitor symptoms to determine when a patient has gotten better.

On child care, Raimondo announced a new partnership with the website to give front-line workers three months of free access to its premium service to find caregivers for children as well as elders and pets. She suggested out-of-work Rhode Islanders could consider signing up as caregivers as a way to make some extra money, and others can sign up online to volunteer.

The Boys And Girls Club, Greater Providence YMCA, Children’s Workshop, Children’s Friend and Learning Brook will offer on-site care for children of essential workers at some hospitals, the governor said.

In addition, Raimondo said the R.I. Department of Human Services is releasing new emergency regulations that will allow some additional child care centers to reopen. “You must follow the new emergency regulations so we can keep you, your employees and the kids you serve safe,” the governor said, warning that spot checks will be conducted.

“I know every solution I’m putting out there is imperfect,” Raimondo said. “We are trying every day to do the best we can to meet this crisis.”

With reports that some out-of-state residents are coming to Rhode Island from places like New York City to wait out the epidemic at their summer homes, Raimondo declined to urge them to stay away, as some have, but indicated they should plan to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival. Block Island has issued a shelter-in-place order.

The R.I. Department of Labor and Training said unemployment claims tied to COVID-19 have now soared to over 50,000. (The number also includes individuals filing for Temporary Disability Insurance or its sister program for caregivers.) Raimondo said the amount is “surpassing anything we’ve seen before,” including the Great Recession and the 1991 banking crisis.

“We are going to pay every claim,” she said. “You can rest assured that the money is there.”

However, she asked residents not to call or visit DLT to check on the status of their applications, saying that reduces the amount of time staff can spend processing claims. “We are truly overrun,” she said. The goal is to pay everyone within 10 to 12 days, she said.

Raimondo said she is leaving it to the federal government to decide whether to waive mortgage payments for those who are out of work because of COVID-19. (New York has done that at the state level.) She urged lenders to “provide as much leniency as possible,” and said she is more focused on evictions due to overdue rent.

Raimondo touched on legislative leaders’ decision to call a Thursday meeting of the obscure Disaster Emergency Funding Board, which will take up her request for authorization to borrow as much as $300 million to tide the state over financially.

“This should not alarm anyone — this is actually good news,” she said. “We’re taking action.”

On Rhode Island’s second day of distance learning due to school buildings being closed, Raimondo said she had consulted Monday night with various superintendents, and “by all accounts you’re off to a terrific beginning.”

The governor urged Rhode Islanders to look after their own mental health as well as their children, who may have questions about the crisis. “Tensions are rising,” she said. “There is no way around that.”