Key takeaways from Sunday’s COVID-19 briefing in Rhode Island

  • 3rd person has died
  • 55 new cases; total of 294
  • All out-of-state cars to be stopped on southern border; will be told to quarantine if staying
  • Non-critical retail stores must close Monday
  • 3 nursing homes have cases
  • Child care centers closed for one week

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Sunday a third person in Rhode Island has died from COVID-19. The first two deaths were reported Saturday.

Raimondo said there were 55 new positive cases Sunday, for a total of 294 since the virus was first detected in Rhode Island. She said 35 people are hospitalized due to the illness.

“This is not a cause for panic,” Raimondo said during her daily coronavirus briefing. “Tomorrow there will probably be an even bigger spike.”

A state spokesperson, David Levesque, said the third death from the disease was a man in his 30s. The first two had been older people in their 70s and 80s, respectively, who both had underlying conditions. Levesque said the Department of Health was still investigating the younger man’s case, including whether he also had underlying conditions.

Raimondo said the spike in cases was another reason why Rhode Islanders should follow her orders to stay at home, not gather in groups of five or more and remain socially distant from others.

She issued her strongest restrictions yet on Saturday: a stay-at-home order, the closure of non-critical retailers and a 14-day quarantine order for all out-of-state travelers coming to Rhode Island.

The travel order replaced a previous order requiring only New Yorkers to quarantine when they come to Rhode Island. The order was being enforced by the R.I. State Police, who were stopping cars with New York license plates at the southern border. The R.I. National Guard was also knocking on doors of people in Westerly and coastal communities who had cars in the driveway with New York plates.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday night he would sue Rhode Island for targeting New Yorkers, but tweeted Sunday thanking Raimondo for changing the order.

“We will not let New Yorkers be discriminated against,” Cuomo said. He also incorrectly said that “Rhode Island will no longer be stopped New Yorkers at their border.” (The tweet was later deleted.)

Rhode Island State Police Col. James Manni said New Yorkers — and all cars with out-of-state plates — would be directed to stop at information centers at Rhode Island’s southern border.

Manni said the cars would be instructed by signs to stop at one of four information centers in the southern part of the state: the Hopkinton welcome center or Exeter weigh station on I-95 North, Route 138 East in Jamestown before the Newport Bridge, and Route 1 at the RIDOT facility in Westerly.

The driver will be asked by members of the R.I. National Guard to provide their destination and contact info and will then be directed to quarantine and forward their information to the R.I. Department of Health, according to Manni. He said drivers who are just passing through the state will be sent on their way.

“The procedure we have in place does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights,” Manni said. “When I was sworn in as a Rhode Island State Police trooper approximately 30 years ago, I took an oath to support and defend the constitution. I have never violated that oath and will not today.”

Raimondo said the National Guard would be at the airport, train stations and bus stations enforcing the quarantine order.

She added that she expanded the New York policy to all states before she spoke to Cuomo by phone Saturday night.

“If he feels it’s important for him to take credit, go ahead,” Raimondo said. “I think it’s odd that Governor Cuomo is focused on this sort of politics at a time that we’re fighting disasters.”

Non-critical retail stores will be required to close on Monday. The order has prompted backlash from some businesses — including a Pawtucket bookstore — who questioned why liquor and guns were more essential than books.

R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor emphasized Sunday that retailers that have to close can still sell online, and said the Department of Business Regulation is working on guidance for curbside and delivery options for businesses who have to close their physical doors.

He added that DBR was also working on the possibility of allowing appointment-only service at certain retailers such as car dealers or appliance stores. He said businesses that were ordered to close should not start doing this without contacting the department.

Pryor also said there has been “phenomenal” cooperation from the manufacturing industry when it comes to following guidelines.

“The governor wants the most pro-commerce version of our policies,” Pryor said. He said businesses who need help setting up a website to sell online could call (401) 521-HELP.

Restaurants will continue to be closed for dine-in service but can offer takeout and delivery. Non-retail businesses that haven’t been closed by previous orders — such as golf courses — can remain open.

State officials said there are now three nursing homes in Rhode Island with positive cases of COVID-19. Dr. James McDonald with the R.I. Department of Health said nursing homes are being advised to quarantine new residents when they come into a home.

Raimondo said all child care centers will be closed until at least April 4. She acknowledged that she has changed policies on this multiple times — first asking them to close, then allowing some to reopen with new guidelines — but said the situation has now changed.

“I’m sorry for that,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s safe for this week, for child care centers to remain open.”

After a correctional officer at the ACI in Cranston tested positive for the virus, Raimondo’s Director of Administration Brett Smiley said the state was working on having some alleged offenders await hearings or trials on home confinement instead of at the prison.

He said the fee that is paid at the same time as bail has also been waived in an effort to get people released more quickly.

Smiley said there did not appear to be “personal contact” between the officer and any inmates.

“We have taken all kinds of protective measures to ensure that both the staff and the people incarcerated at the ACI are kept safe through this crisis,” Smiley said.

He said in-person visits are suspended at the prison, but inmates are now being given two free phone calls per week and five free letters, and inmates in solitary confinement would also receive those privileges.

At the DMV, Raimondo said expiration dates for things like licenses, registrations and inspections would be extended for 90 days if they were set to expire in March or April.

Raimondo urged people to follow her stay-at-home order, which has exceptions for buying necessities, going to work, going to medical appointments and getting fresh air or exercise outside.

On Saturday, she changed the maximum gathering size from 10 people to five. On Sunday, she asked Rhode Islanders to write down which people they’ll interact with this week.

“We don’t want to you be hanging out with a different five people every day,” Raimondo said. “The name of the game here is reducing your number of contacts so that if you are infected, you’re in touch with fewer people.”