Key takeaways from Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing:
- Death toll climbs to 634
- Hospitalizations, new cases on the decline
- Phase 2 of reopening on track for June 1
- Sector-specific rules continue coming out
- Gov urges mask wearing, going outdoors
PROVIDENCE, RI. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health announced Tuesday that 13 more Rhode Islanders have died after contracting COVID-19, but also reported another decline in hospitalizations and the fewest new cases in weeks.
The newly announced fatalities bring Rhode Island’s coronavirus death toll to 634 people since March 19, with three dying Monday and seven dying Sunday, according to the Health Department. A majority of the deaths have been linked to long-term care or assisted-living facilities.
“We’ve lost more than 600 Rhode Islanders to the virus … and I just want all of us to be mindful of that,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said at her daily briefing. “There’s a lot of suffering right now.”
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The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized with COVID-19 fell to 226, the lowest total since April 13, compared with 240 on Sunday. The Health Department said 50 of those patients were in intensive care, 36 on ventilators. (Total hospitalizations were up by two from Monday, when data was not reported.)
More than 1,100 Rhode Island coronavirus patients have been discharged from the hospital since the crisis began, while 229 have died at the hospital. Hospitalizations have been falling steadily since late April.
“However, it is very important that we do not get complacent,” said Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “What we are in is a marathon, not a sprint. COVID-19 is going to be in our lives for some time.”
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After skipping the data data release on Monday due to the Memorial Day holiday, the Health Department announced just 73 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the fewest in one day since early April. But the total number of tests was also down sharply over the holiday weekend, so the positivity rate actually ticked up to 5.7%.
“It’s excellent news,” Raimondo said of the lower numbers, particularly since the state is now more than two weeks into its phased reopening. But she also warned against reading too much into data from days with such a comparatively small number of tests.
Urban communities such as Central Falls and Providence continue to see far higher percentages of tests coming back positive than municipalities in other parts of Rhode Island, according to Health Department data. Raimondo said that shows Rhode Island is “still not out of the woods” as a whole.
The state remains on track to enter Phase 2 of Raimondo’s reopening plan on June 1, which is next Monday. Detailed guidelines for individual industries are being posted on the website reopeningri.com.
The R.I. Commerce Corp. will be hosting Facebook town halls to answer sector-specific questions for gyms, restaurants and personal services businesses such as hair salons. Following the discussion, there will be an opportunity to ask questions. The sessions are as follows:
- Gyms and fitness studios: Wednesday, 10 a.m.
- General businesses: Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
- Personal services (Hair, Nails, Massage Therapists, Etc.): Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
- Restaurants: Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
Additional guidance for youth sports will be unveiled on Thursday.
The governor said state officials had seen strong compliance with the state’s social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines during Memorial Day Weekend. “Everything about this weekend is a good news story,” she said.
Surveys by the Department of Business Regulation over the weekend showed nearly universal mask-wearing, according to Raimondo. She acknowledged some people still feel uncomfortable wearing a cloth face covering in public, but insisted it’s necessary to prevent asymptomatic spread of the virus.
“The data is in: mask wearing really works,” she said.
The governor also encouraged people to spend time outdoors as the weather improves, saying “the science is very clear” that people are less likely to get infected when they’re outside rather than inside.
“If you find yourself anywhere — in the grocery store, at a shop, at a backyard barbecue, at church — close to people who aren’t in your family, get away from them,” she said. “You’re doing something wrong.”
Asked how soon she could imagine lifting the mandates to wear masks and social distance, Raimondo said, “I don’t see it happening in the next five or six months.” She said the keys to that happening are an effective therapeutic, widespread immunity or a vaccine.
More than 35,000 people have now downloaded the Health Department’s Crush Covid RI smartphone app, although there have been complaints that the software is a major drain on batteries. Raimondo said an updated version would be released in the coming weeks, and asked residents to share feedback on how it can be improved.
Separately, the governor urged teachers and parents to push through for the final weeks of distance learning for students, and noted National Foster Care Month by thanking foster parents and urging other residents to consider signing up on the DCYF website.
Raimondo will hold Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing at 2:30 p.m.
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