Key takeaways from Wednesday’s RI COVID-19 briefing

  • 8 new positive cases, total stands at 132
  • 16 people now hospitalized in RI
  • New guidelines coming to restrict number of customers in stores
  • $1.25 billion in federal aid expected for RI
  • Restaurant closures will continue past March 30

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday there are eight new people who tested positive for coronavirus, for a total of 132 known cases in Rhode Island.

In her daily afternoon briefing, Raimondo celebrated the news that a bipartisan deal has been reached for a $2 trillion federal stimulus plan, with $1.25 billion expected to come to Rhode Island if the plan passes Congress.

She thanked Rhode Island’s federal delegation for helping secure the funds, particularly Sen. Jack Reed, who was part of the task force negotiating the deal.

“I began my day today with an early morning text from the senator delivering the good news,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo said the R.I. Department of Business Regulation would be issuing new guidelines Wednesday for stores that are still open, restricting the number of people who can be in the store at a time and requiring stores do more thorough and frequent cleaning.

She said the state was getting too many reports of “big box stores” with too many people inside in close proximity.

“The only way I can continue to keep these big stores open is if we try a little bit harder to avoid crowds,” Raimondo said. She acknowledged that it might result in lines outside stores, and said people would be asked to space themselves out in line as they wait to go inside.

She said police would be involved in enforcing the guidelines, which were released later Wednesday. They include limiting the store’s capacity to 20% of the normal fire capacity, and 10% of the capacity during special hours for high-risk populations like seniors.

Stores will be required to mark six feet sections of high-traffic area, and are urged to space out any lines of people waiting outside, including by using ropes or signs.

“If we find that you aren’t complying, then I’m going to have to do something more extreme,” Raimondo said.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the R.I. Department of Health, said the eight new positive cases include five men and three women, ranging in age from 30s to 60s.

The Department of Health said there are 15 people who are hospitalized with the virus.

The state also released town-by-town data on COVID-19 cases for the first time. The breakdown shows 28 out of 39 municipalities in Rhode Island have positive cases, including 42 in Providence, 11 in Cranston, seven in Warwick and five in Middletown. The health department labeled towns with a small number of cases as having “fewer than five,” for privacy reasons.

Raimondo said she was encouraged that Rhode Island is “not seeing the spikes” of other places, though a low testing capacity may be responsible for that. Asked for an estimate of how many positive cases could be in Rhode Island, Alexander-Scott did not provide an estimate but said those with symptoms should assume they have the disease and stay home and isolated.

Alexander-Scott said respiratory clinics are now being set up to see patients with COVID-19 symptoms, and the Department of Health is working to provide testing at those facilities.

Raimondo said she wants to be able to test up to 800 patients a day by next week.

Alexander-Scott also addressed concerns that elective surgeries are not being banned in Rhode Island, something that other states have done. Alexander-Scott said such surgeries are often still necessary even if they are pre-scheduled, rather than the result of an emergency like a car crash or heart attack.

“Many so-called elective procedures are in fact semi-urgent and need to be done,” Alexander-Scott said. “Cancer surgery, complex vascular surgery, pediatric surgery.”

She said health care facilities are being asked to send the health department their plans for conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns and masks, and plans for canceling non-critical procedures.

Raimondo said she does plan to extend the ban on dine-in restaurants, but has not decided how far to extend it. Her current executive order allows takeout and delivery only until March 30.

“I can’t imagine a world where we’ll be able to reopen restaurants on Monday,” Raimondo said. She said she plans to update the order on Friday.

Unemployment claims and applications for temporary disability insurance tied to the coronavirus have now soared to more than 56,000, according to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.