Key takeaways from Thursday’s RI COVID-19 briefing

  • 33 new positive cases, total stands at 165
  • New York travelers must quarantine for 14 days
  • 23 people hospitalized; 9 in ICU
  • New services offered to business community
  • Gov hopes to reach 1,000 tests per day next week

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo on Thursday announced there are 33 new people who tested positive for COVID-19, marking the state’s largest one-day increase so far and bringing the total to 165 known cases in Rhode Island.

The second-term governor also announced a new order mandating anyone traveling to Rhode Island from New York — by land or air — to self-quarantine for two weeks once they arrive. The order is effective immediately.

“This is different, this is unusual, this is radical,” Raimondo said.

To help enforce the new mandate, the R.I. National Guard will take post at bus and train stations to collect information from New York travelers, and the R.I. State Police are expected to stop cars with New York license plates coming into the state on the highway to track travel plans.

State Police Col. James Manni and Raimondo assured people that the collection of personal information would not be used for criminal investigations, immigration enforcement or anything other than to help stem the public health crisis.

“This is an unprecedented event in our history,” Manni said. “I assure everyone — no matter what state you reside in — that all troopers will be professional, polite and will treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

The new mandate stems from growing concerns that people leaving the New York City metro area might be helping to spread the disease. Raimondo said the New York metro area has more than 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“It’s very easy to come from there to here,” Raimondo said.

The governor nonetheless said it should not have any effect on interstate commerce, and encouraged people who have homes in Rhode Island to come here — but to quarantine for the 14 days on arrival.

“It’s related to people who want to live here or stay here,” she said.

In her update of new cases, R.I. Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said at least 10 of the new people with COVID-19 are in their 50s. Currently, there are 23 patients hospitalized, with nine receiving treatment in intensive-care units, although the health director said only six of those are intubated.

“We continue to follow the status of those patients,” she said.

Alexander-Scott, who pointed out the state has begun releasing information about cases at the municipal level, noted that the most cases have been found in Providence, followed by Cranston and Warwick. They are the three largest municipalities in the state.

So far, there have been no reported COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island.

Raimondo said the state is in particular need of ventilators, which are in limited supply, and called on the private sector to help out if possible.

“If there are any ventilators, reach out as soon as you can,” Raimondo said.

Workers and employers also continue to grapple with the fallout from the global pandemic, which has brought much of the economy to a screeching halt. Unemployment continues to climb by the thousands each day, and hundreds of small businesses are seeking financial assistance to try and stay afloat.

Raimondo said earlier in the week she expects to extend her order shutting down all dine-in food services on Friday. The initial order is set to expire at the end of the month. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza made a similar decision at the city level on Thursday.

Alexander-Scott on Thursday reminded restaurant owners and workers that continue to provide take-out food to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, and to keep six feet apart.

She noted that “this can be challenging in very small kitchens.”

In an effort to help the small-business community, Raimondo announced a new public-private collaborative to help small businesses transition to working at home. R.I Commerce Corp. will work with local tech companies to help business owners source equipment, set up software and get virtual operations underway where possible.

“They’re going to help get your meetings online, help you to enable your workers to work from home more easily and help set up a website, if needed,” Raimondo said.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor encouraged any business seeking help or looking to help out to contact: 401-521-HELP.

Like the private sector, the state is also struggling financially, which spurred action earlier in the day when the R.I. General Assembly convened an obscure leadership board to approve a request to borrow $300 million to keep paying state bills. March and early April are particularly challenging budget months for the state, as it’s typically right before the much-important tax bill payments come in from residents. The tax filing date has now been extended until July 15.

State leaders have not been able to determine how long the shutdowns — which also include entertainment, recreational and close-contact businesses — will go on, in part because testing remains stubbornly low.

“We need to ramp up our testing, that’s a fact,” Raimondo said.

The governor is nonetheless optimistic Rhode Island next week will have access to the materials necessary to begin testing 1,000 people per day. Greater testing will allow health officials to better pinpoint where the illness is affecting people. Better information will help the state more accurately respond to the pandemic, which will allow state leaders know when it’s safe to reopen the economy.

“I cannot reopen the economy until we have [more] testing in place,” Raimondo said.

Another major part of the puzzle, the governor added, remains the limited access to personal protective equipment, also known as PPEs. Raimondo said the federal government made it “crystal clear” to governors on a call today that states are expected to go into the private market to buy PPEs, including masks.

“[It’s] incredibly hard to do,” she said, noting the competition across the country and globe right now for such equipment.

Despite the challenges, however, Raimondo took a minute during her briefing to step back and note how quickly the disease has changed life in Rhode Island, noting a few months ago nobody even knew the word “coronavirus.”

And while she aknowledged it has raised anxiety among most Rhode Island, she also express optimism in the way everyone in the state has helped to respond.

“The speed of this virus can be scary for some of us at this time,” Raimondo said. “But the speed of our response has been incredibly fast.”

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. The original story is below.