Key takeaways from Tuesday’s RI COVID-19 briefing

  • 4 dead, 8 total; ‘serious’ hospital spike
  • State parks, beaches closing Friday
  • Medical personnel needed, including students
  • Health care workers must wear masks
  • Wednesday’s briefing moved to 2:30 p.m.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized due to coronavirus jumped overnight and four more people have died due to the illness, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday, as she reiterated the need for all residents to follow health directives.

“We’re in a rapid spread phase of this disease, and this is going to get much harder before it gets easier,” Raimondo said at her daily coronavirus briefing, calling the jump in hospitalizations “significant” and “serious.”

But, she said, “Rhode Island is in better shape than a lot of places.”

Rhode Islanders are being told not to gather in groups of five or more; to stay at home other than trips for essentials; to maintain a distance of six feet during social interactions; and not leave the house if they’re sick. Officials say the directives are meant to slow the spread of coronavirus through the community.

“Do not push the limits of social distancing,” Raimondo said.

Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the four patients who died were a man in his 60s, a man and a woman in their 70s, and a woman in her 80s. A total of eight Rhode Islanders have died from COVID-19 complications in recent days, according to the department.

The state reported 86 new positive tests for coronavirus in the population, bringing the state’s total to 488 since March 1. (Six cases reported Monday turned out to be residents of other states.)

The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 rose to 59, up from 41 on Monday and just four a week ago. Of those patients, 14 were in the ICU, with nine of them intubated. Officials said the hospitalized patients range in age, though the virus remains more deadly for older residents.

Alexander-Scott said there is increasing evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted by droplet to surfaces and remain there for some time, making consistent cleaning crucial, especially in places still open such as hospitals, nursing homes, and police and fire stations.

The Department of Health is now instructing all health care employees, including those at nursing homes, to wear surgical masks while working. However, those masks and other key equipment remains in limited supply.

“I want to be very clear about this,” Raimondo said. “Right now in this country, we do not have enough ventilators to meet our needs. We do not have enough masks and respirators and goggles to meet our needs. In the state of Rhode Island, we do not have enough hospital beds. That’s a fact. It’s a brutal fact.”

“We together need to buy some time,” she said. “We need to buy a little time to ready the system — more testing, more beds, more ventilators, more doctors. Only one way to buy us time: every single person out there staying at home. Minimizing your contact with other people. Washing your hands for 30 seconds constantly. Washing your surfaces.”

Raimondo also made another plea for trained medical and behavioral health professionals to sign up to help through the website She said there was a “desperate need” for doctors, nurses, CNEs, physician assistance, therapists and social workers. Nursing students who have completed a semester will be given a 90-day certified nursing assistance license.

“We will run out of people,” she said.

On testing, the governor said Rhode Island is doing 500 to 600 tests a day and is still on track to meet her goal of 1,000 tests a day by later this week. Drive-through testing sites operated by the National Guard are expected to be fully operational on Wednesday, though she again told residents they can only get a test by appointment through a doctor or the Department of Health.

Alexander-Scott said as more test capacity becomes available, the state is going to begin testing more people who are 65 or older and have symptoms; who have underlying medical conditions; or who are critical infrastructure workers such as police and fire personnel.

Raimondo warned that it could take three to four days for an individual to get back his or her test results, because officials are prioritizing running tests for essential workers such as medical personnel, hospitalized individuals and the critically ill.

Until testing is ubiquitous, Raimondo said, it is “just too dangerous” to reopen broad swaths of the economy.

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She asked all residents to write down at the end of each day where they’ve been and who they’ve been with to help with contact tracing, following up on her weekend directive to write down the five people residents planned to have close contact with during the coming week.

State beaches and parks will be closed as of Friday because too many people were not practicing socially distancing while they were left open, Raimondo said. “You can’t park your car there. You can’t congregate there until further notice,” she said. People can still go for a walk, she said. Campgrounds will remain closed until at least May 1.

With Wednesday being the first of the month, Raimondo reminded residents that evictions cannot be adjudicated until courts reopen on April 17, and said to “ignore” eviction notices if they arrive between now and then. Utilities also will not be shutting off service through April 15 due to unpaid bills. She encouraged people to pay their bills if they can, and said more announcements would be coming before those deadlines.

Alexander-Scott urged those who receive food assistance on April 1 to limit how many members of their family go to the grocery store and to stay outside if it is too crowded. (The Department of Human Services previously announced that all families on the SNAP food stamps program will receive the maximum benefit temporarily.)

For the homeless, R.I. Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley said the state is working to reduce the number of individuals who are gathered in close quarters in congregate housing at local shelters. The state is working to lease space in several hotels to quarantine them. (Most hotels are nearly empty or closed.)

For firms hit hard by the crisis, the R.I. Superior Court announced a new Business Recovery Plan program that Presiding Justice Alice Gibney said “will provide temporary relief to local businesses so they can get back on their feet.” It provides options for businesses behind on their bills to avoid liquidation. Information has been posted on the judiciary’s website.

President Trump on Monday signed a major disaster declaration for Rhode Island due to coronavirus, as he did for Massachusetts two days earlier. Raimondo said the move will allow the state, municipalities and school districts to qualify for extra federal funding to help pay for expenses related to coronavirus response dating back to Jan. 20.

Raimondo said Wednesday’s briefing will be at 2:30 p.m. rather than 1 because she has a call with other governors that conflicts. She tried to include a note of optimism amid all the worrying news.

“Every day we get a little stronger and a little better at meeting your needs,” she said.

Live Streaming Monday: Coronavirus Coverage

1 p.m. RI Gov. Gina Raimondo Briefing | 3:30 p.m. Gov. Charlie Baker briefing

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