Key takeaways from today’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • 18 more dead; death toll is 462
  • Hospitalizations dip; case rate steady
  • Positive case rate higher at city test sites
  • Masks, disinfectant, laptops being offered
  • Summer self-quarantine policy undecided

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island continues to experience a plateau in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, even as the death toll among those infected with the disease continues to mount, the R.I. Health Department revealed Wednesday.

The Health Department reported 18 more deaths among Rhode Islanders diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the state’s coronavirus death toll to 462. The 18 fatalities involved individuals who ranged in age from their 50s to their 90s, according to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the department’s director.

As of Tuesday, more than two-thirds of the Rhode Islanders who’ve died after being infected with coronavirus were residents of nursing homes.

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There was better news on hospitalizations, with 269 COVID-19 patients reported hospitalized on Wednesday, down from 280 on Tuesday and a high of 372 back on April 28. The number of new hospital admissions fell to 17, the lowest total since March 31.

Among those the 269 patients in the hospital, 68 were in the intensive care unit and 48 were on ventilators.

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The Health Department said 2,683 tests that came back in the last 24 hours found 221 new COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island, keeping the state’s test daily positivity rate roughly steady at just over 8%. (Experts have said it is a good sign when states get that figure below 10%.)

One day after Target 12 revealed that a larger share of tests are coming back positive at the new testing sites in Rhode Island’s urban core, Raimondo acknowledged the issue. She noted a new testing site in Providence and said capacity has tripled in Woonsocket. She also reminded residents that testing is free and immigration status is not an issue.

“The positive test rates in some of these [urban] communities … is high. It is higher,” the governor said. “So what that means is, we have to do more testing.”

She also gave an update on the state’s antibody testing pilot, which is aiming to check a random sample of 5,000 Rhode Islanders to determine if they have already developed immunity to COVID-19. Raimondo said two Stop & Shop locations in Providence are being added to the four stores where the invitation-only testing was already being done.

Testing has plateaued in Rhode Island, with under 3,000 tests done on most days in May. “We did see a dip — or at least not an acceleration we wanted — in referrals coming from physicians,” Raimondo said.

Asked about a new study raising reliability questions about the Abbott rapid-testing system Rhode Island is using for many of its tests, Alexander-Scott said the issue is being examined by the state’s new testing and validation task force. She also said that is one reason people are being told to stay home and remain isolated if they are sick, regardless of their test results.

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At the same time, Raimondo encouraged Rhode Islanders to begin leaving their homes more often for medical care and errands, while also reminding them that they are required to maintain social distance and wear a mask in busy public places.

“We are going to be living with this virus until there is a vaccine,” she said.

Also Wednesday, Raimondo announced new efforts to help small businesses reopen while complying with the various public health directives her administration has put forward.

Starting next week, the state will distribute roughly 500,000 masks as well as vouchers for disinfectant to businesses with 50 or fewer employees, including retailers, restaurants and manufacturers. The program will be run through industry associations and local chambers of commerce, with the disinfectant available at Ocean State Job Lot. (More information is here.)

In addition, the governor said Microsoft has donated 500 laptops that will be made available to small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that are trying to shift to doing more online. Applications are available on in English and in Spanish, due by May 26. The software giant has donated another 500 laptops that will be provided to Rhode Island College and K-12 students.

Asked whether she expects to continue requiring travelers arriving in Rhode Island from out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days throughout the summer, Raimondo hesitated, then said, “I don’t think so.” She said her hesitation was because she doesn’t know what the situation will look like in July.

Raimondo said the coalition of northeast governors she’s part of is looking at a unified policy on travel, though nothing has been decided yet. She is also exploring the possibility of requiring all tourists to take a coronavirus test on arrival, though she again said that has not been decided.

While courts are currently scheduled to reopen next week — which would mean eviction proceedings could resume — Raimondo said it is not certain that will actually happen. She indicated the state will look at providing more rental assistance beyond the $1.5 million allocated so far.

R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor indicated more information will be coming soon on policies for beaches and campgrounds.

Former R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders co-wrote a document released Wednesday by the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, questioning the legal basis for the governor’s ongoing emergency actions.

Addressing lawmakers, Flanders and his two co-authors wrote that “the General Assembly has the authority to impose a more-measured response to the crisis and potentially to save our Ocean State’s summer season.”

In response, Raimondo argued her actions have complied with the legal standard set out in statute, and suggested she has taken many of the decisions reluctantly.

The governor has said she hopes to enter Phase 2 of her three-phase reopening plan within two weeks, and she plans to lay out more specifics about that on Thursday. However, Pryor indicated restaurants were unlikely to be able to expand their offerings before June 1.