6 more deaths, hospitalizations rise in RI; churches limited to 25% capacity


Key takeaways from Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing

  • 6 deaths, 257 hospitalized, 209 cases
  • Religious services with limits May 30
  • More money promised for hospitals
  • Goal is to start Phase 2 on June 1
  • More than 10,000 download state’s app

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health announced Wednesday that six more Rhode Islanders have died after contracting COVID-19, while the number of patients hospitalized has risen for the second day in a row.

The six newly reported fatalities, half of which occurred in the last day, bring Rhode Island’s coronavirus death toll to 538 people since March 19. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the six individuals who died were in their 80s and 90s, and all of them lived in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

“Most individuals who have passed away unfortunately have some form of underlying illness or are of an older age,” Alexander-Scott said.

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Rhode Island rose to 257, nearly wiping out the sharp decline in hospitalizations that had been reported on Monday. Of those patients, the number in the ICU fell by one, to 58, but the number on a ventilator ticked up by one, to 45.

The Health Department said 209 more Rhode Islanders have tested positive for COVID-19, representing 6.7% of the roughly 3,000 tests that came back in the last day.

“It was a better day yesterday when that number started with a ‘1,’” Gov. Gina Raimondo said at her daily briefing, noting the higher number of cases reported Wednesday. Still, she argued the state is “in an excellent place, and a plateau” overall.

A total of 13,356 have tested positive since the crisis began, according to the department’s data. A spokesperson said roughly 200 additional positive cases were added to the all-time total on Monday following a data migration project that he said cleaned up the older numbers.

Alexander-Scott said she remained concerned about the high test positivity rate in the Latino community and in some of Rhode Island’s cities.

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One day after announcing religious services will resume on the weekend of May 30, the governor said houses of worship will be limited to 25% of their usual capacity. Raimondo acknowledged that her own advisory council of faith leaders has struggled to reach consensus.

“This has been difficult,” she said, noting that in larger religious buildings the restricted capacity could still lead to gatherings of “a couple hundred people.” She said she was trusting Rhode Islanders and religious leaders to be safe.

Asked why she has set a 25% capacity limit for Rhode Island churches when Gov. Charlie Baker has set a 40% limit for Massachusetts ones, Raimondo emphasized her respect for Baker and called it “a judgment call,” saying no governor has a playbook to make the decisions.

Catholic parishes will be distributing Holy Communion, but guidelines to avoid virus transmission will be incorporated into Masses. Full details will be posted on reopeningri.com later this week, but other rules will include social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent cleaning.

The governor, who belongs to St. Raymond’s Church in Providence, said in response to a question that she expects to resume attending Mass in person with her family as long as none of them are sick, though she will encourage her elderly mother to stay home.

Looking ahead to Memorial Day Weekend, Raimondo reminded residents that the ban on social of gatherings more than five remains in place and made another plea for patience.

“This weekend is not a weekend to throw a big party,” she said. “It is not a weekend to have a big barbecue.” Otherwise, she said, “two or three weeks from now we’re going to see a problem.”

The state on Tuesday also issued new guidelines for visiting beaches, with East Matunuck and Scarborough set to reopen on Memorial Day with limited parking. Raimondo on Wednesday described it as partly “a symbolic opening” of the two beaches, since few services will be available.

Touching on the purpose of the holiday, Raimondo said she will not hold a daily briefing on Monday but will instead release a pre-recorded video message and join a primarily digital Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter.

“The day is about remembering the fallen Americans who have served in defense of our country, and remembering their families who have lost a loved one,” said Raimondo, the daughter of a World War II veteran.

The governor confirmed she ended National Guard checkpoints at the airport and the border roughly a week ago, saying they were interacting with relatively few people and were needed elsewhere. She indicated she will provide further information on travel rules and other measures that will go into effect during Phase 2 of her reopening plan, slated to begin around June 1.

Raimondo said she “fully expects” restaurants to be able to begin offering indoor dining, with restrictions, during Phase 2. She said officials are still looking at how to allow music venues to resume operations, suggesting it will be harder to enforce social distancing there compared with churches.

Repeating a message she and others have delivered repeatedly in recent weeks, Raimondo expressed concern about a drop in non-COVID health care appointments, estimating that childhood immunizations are down 30% to 40%. She urged residents to make appointments for medical care for themselves and their loved ones.

On the plus side, she added, “We’ve seen an excellent uptick in telemedicine.”

The governor again indicated she plans to use part of Rhode Island’s $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund money to shore up the state’s cash-strapped hospitals, though she provided no further details on how that will be accomplished.

On Tuesday, Raimondo unveiled a new mobile app — “Crush COVID RI” — designed to connect people with COVID-19 testing and services, monitor their symptoms, and trace the locations they’ve been to recently, as well as help the state analyze where the disease may be spreading.

Raimondo said more than 10,000 people had downloaded the app in its first 24 hours of availability, and continued to ask residents to sign up.

RI’s new contact-tracing app: How it works and why the state wants you to use it

Raimondo and Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones are co-hosting a Facebook Live town hall for older Rhode Islanders on Thursday at 11 a.m. Questions can be emailed in advance to communications@governor.ri.gov.

The governor’s regular daily coronavirus briefing will follow two hours later Thursday at 1 p.m.

Live Streaming Monday: Coronavirus Coverage

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

Watch all daily coronavirus updates here on WPRI.com or on the WPRI 12 mobile app » Go here to watch CBS News Coverage»

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